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Coffee Confession Query Update

I wish the coffee would stay hot, even down to those last few sips. When it’s first brewed I put my face in the mug and pull the aroma into my nose. Those gloriously warm first sips are the best. Then it gets mindless. I’m in the world of my manuscript, slugging down the caffeine for its properties and not for the flavor anymore. By the end and especially if I’ve forgotten the mug for a bit, those cold shots are all willpower. The will to not waste.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m still waiting to hear from agents who have my full manuscript. Have I ever mentioned what a patient person I am? No? Exactly. The customary wait time before it’s polite to nudge an agent is 90 days. 90! Jesus was in the desert for 40. Meanwhile, I’m all over the place as far as my manuscript goes. I believe in it. I love it. But I also wonder if I’m about to sustain another round of near-knockout punches from which I’ll have to rise. And I will. Rise. I’ve fed myself author stories about overcoming. One writer had over a hundred rejections a year for three years before landing an agent. Same book, mind you. I thought a hundred was high. Here’s where I’m at as of today:

55 queries sent since June, 2018

4 full requests; 1 rejection, 3 still out

43 rejections or no answer (which means the same thing)

8 recently sent and not yet rejected (my goal is to have 7 always in the hopeful queue)

I have to tell you, it felt like more than 43 rejections. At rejection 26 (November 2018) I revamped my query letter with the help of Query Shark, and I received my first requests for fulls. Ah…the validation. But what is validated? My ability to entice an agent. Check. My ability to write fifty good pages. Check. But do I have what it takes to write the full monty? I now believe the ability to finish doesn’t rest on my current level of talent but on my constant level of persistence. Unless a book is in such a shamble that it cannot be fixed (think flattened roadkill), there is hope. I will continue revising. Until I’m agented. Until I’m published.

That is what it means to be a writer. Grit. Rejection. Revising. Some would say that in order to have the audacity to create an entire world with words alone, one must possess a cyclopean ego, its one bulging eye fixed on fandom. And to temper the writer’s god complex is the querying process. Confession: I have never felt my ego was large enough for this industry. If anyone has ideas on how to bulk up the ego at any stage of a manuscript, please share. I do pray though. And I find that if I stop looking at myself (oh poor little me and my homeless manuscript…) I’m happier.

Meanwhile, I use every opportunity to better myself. I listen to podcasts on writing and follow people who are in the querying trenches. This month I applied for a mentor at Author Mentor Match. I should hear any day now. I also entered Trespass in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. It was exciting for me to enter because last year at this time I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have surgery. I was unable to focus on anything but loving my family and friends. I missed the deadline.

I hunt down beta readers and join writing groups.  All these things I do to keep moving toward my goal, the most important being to put my butt in the chair and work on my 2nd manuscript, 19,233 words in, but who’s counting? Today I managed 588 words. A thousand is a good day, but I am a slow creator and a rabid revisor.

Thanks for sticking with my update! Hope the coffee didn’t get too cold for you. 🙂

Many thanks to Eclectic Ali for getting the coffee brewing and the conversation started. Ali describes her casual posting plan: Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)! Grab a cup of coffee and share with us! What’s been going on in your life? What are your weekend plans? Is there a topic you’ve just been ruminating on that you want to talk about?

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Personal Journey

Coffee Confession from USC

Today for coffee we could head over to the Starbucks at the University of South Carolina. Luke is applying to colleges, and we’re all dreaming of what’s in store for his future. While we haven’t heard back from many of his hopefuls yet, USC accepted him into their honors college and invited us to visit. It was 30° when we left Cleveland. Our walking tour yesterday was 70°, and I was feeling my long sleeves. Not complaining, though. The birds were singing. My skin wasn’t getting frostbit. Students were dressed in shorts. Everyone refers to us as y’all in that southern accent that’s as sweet as their tea.

I have managed to embarrass my son already. They keep throwing us into soirees, the kind where you walk into a room full of clusters of people already engaged in deep, robust conversation, and you must figure out how to pry your way in gracefully. I am not known for my spontaneous verbal grace. One of the many reasons I prefer writing: the backspace key.

We enjoyed breakfast at the top of the Capstone House, a revolving room 18 floors high with floor-to-ceiling windows. I was introduced to the concept of shrimp and grits from a distance and had the most delicious chocolate cheesecake. Cheesecake for breakfast. Oh, and I had it last night for dessert too. I’d do well to walk back to Ohio.

As I type this Luke is in his interview. They play it super low key. My kind of people. The director of admissions joked to a room of scholar-nerds and their nerd-parents that yoga keeps her out of prison. I could definitely have coffee with a gal like that. She and I talked a bit about Pat Conroy, whose books are often set here in Columbia and in Charleston. I am in the middle of Beach Music (a volume so thick you could jack your car on it), and there are scenes that take place on the campus. I got to see the Horseshoe, a beautiful green I just read about, as well as the student union where Conroy has a Vietnam demonstration take place. Very cool.

I’ll tell you though. Even with the 15° temperature, nothing beats home. Looking forward to sharing coffee with you from my beloved Keurig, next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Homeschool Life

Student Flash Contest Winners!

Judging is a buffet where I love every dish. How do I pick just one? As I read through the entries, I jot notes down and assign a number to rank them. I re-read the top-ranked stories and even some lower ranked ones that are still on my mind. Then I wring my hands and generally feel desperate about having to pick just one winner. Lucky for me, my dear friend and fellow author Kathleen Joyce joined the fun!

A couple of things I look for:

  1. Narrative or character arcs. Movement. Unexpected growth or a twist.
  2. Style. Did you use tone/voice well?
  3. Dialogue. If you worked that in, bonus points.
  4. Grammar. It always helps. Always.
  5. Genre. Did you write in a recognizable genre?
  6. Did your story make sense?
  7. Was there more story off the page?

Some entries were super clever and took risks with narrators, genres, and plot. All had praiseworthy moments.

But the winning entry embodies all seven points. It started out with me thinking funny romance and took me to a creepy place I wasn’t expecting. (I always enjoy a surprise.) With voice alone, the author accomplished this shift! As the tone evolved into zombie/vampire/werewolf/something-terrifying-I-can’t-imagine, the dialogue served to steep it in reality. Horror is my favorite genre. The story is polished, makes total sense, and yikes!!! —how about the story off this page?!? No one wants to imagine what’s next for our hapless narrator.

Congratulations, Rachel!

Movie Date by Rachel Carpenter

Credit: Aaron Mello

There was something not quite right about the way the ticket vendor gave me my ticket. I’m pretty sure she judged me for being alone. I wanted to tell her I was meeting someone but decided against it. I pushed the thought from my mind and pulled out my phone and asked him where he was. He replied and said he would be there in a few minutes and to go into the theater. I was a little upset but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I sat down in the theater and pulled out my phone again. Three minutes till the previews started and I was fuming. I shoved my phone back into my jacket pocket and crossed my arms. After a few minutes, I got up to leave, but then I saw my date walking up the stairs. He got there before the actual movie started and I was a little relieved I was not stood up. He sat down and I noticed right away that he smelled repulsive. Like something died on him. I also noticed there was some red stuff on his shirt and pants. I asked him what it was and he said paint. I became too uncomfortable and I told him I had to leave because of a family emergency.

“Let me walk you out,” he suggested.

“Are you sure you want to leave the movie?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s cool.”

When we got to my car he stopped me and apologized for being late. I told him it was fine and started to get into my car. He suddenly grabbed me and covered my mouth. I saw a van pull out from behind me and I was thrown into the van, I tried screaming, but it was no use.

***

Our second winner was chosen by cozy mystery writer, Kathleen Joyce, who graciously read the entries and sent me her choice for #1. Here’s what she had to say: My vote goes to Gloria Blumfeldt. I liked her story. All your students have great imaginations. I enjoyed reading them.

Kathleen regularly reads and edits adult work and mentioned that many of the student stories were of a surprisingly high caliber. You guys make me proud. 🙂

Congratulations, Gloria!

Backyard Discoveries by Gloria Blumfeldt

There was something not quite right about the smell that came from the ground that one morning as I walked through my woods. Rotten and vile. It Almost smelled as if a person had been buried there, but not far under the surface.  My keen sense of smell had landed me many, very important detective jobs. I could pick up and define even the faintest of smells. But there’s no way there’s a crime scene right in my own back yard? I put my nose closer to the earth, sniffing the surface. It is- But it can’t be? Could it? I thought as the smell of a rotting body filled my nostrils. I could find out.

I stood over top of the soiled earth for minutes, unable to get the thought of digging it up out of my head. I knew I wasn’t supposed to act on any of my suspicions until I had reported them to the chief, but this consumed my mind. I couldn’t control myself. Curiosity took over.

The soil was soft and easy to dig into. In a matter of minutes, I could see a piece of blueish fabric peeking out from the dirt. Frantically, I uncovered the rest of it. Moments later a fully uncovered body lay in the ground in front of me. At the sight, I ran back to my house calling for my partner. Finally, I got to the door but and saw my partner through the glass. I yelled more to get his attention. He rushed outside asking a million questions but I just led him to the body. 

“Wow,” He said as he stared at the body, “We’ve been looking for her ever since she went missing last year. I can’t believe you found her. You’re really a special dog.”

 

fiction, Homeschool Life

Flash Contest Detour: No Microcosms, No Problem!

Each session of my 5000 Words class, we devote one week to flash fiction. The assignment is to enter a piece in Microcosms, which experiences a rather dramatic spike in entrants. 🙂 This morning when I opened my email, I found Microcosms is having technical difficulties this week, the week my students are to enter their contest. Is this fate, smiling on the Microcosms judge who would’ve had to read all those extra entries?

Not to be deterred (cue the collective groan of my students), we’ll just take a little detour and hold the contest here, on my blog.

I ask my students to post their fabulous stories in the comments section of this post. Put your name, the title, and the exact word count at the top, then the story. Post by Saturday, midnight (that’s an extra day). I trust my readers will enjoy and perhaps comment on anything that moves you. Most of my students have private blogs, so this would be a rare opportunity to get outside feedback.

Next Tuesday, I’ll post the winning stories. As to judging, it will either be yours truly or a fellow author. (Any takers? Volunteer in the comments!) Hey, it’s 8:26 AM and I’m working with a curveball here.

But what about the prompt?? I’m not techy enough to build a spinning machine like the folks at Microcosms, so we’ll have to go stone age: I’ll give you a first sentence. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Craft a flash fiction story of no more than 300 words that begins:

There was something not quite right about the…

 

 

 

Personal Journey

A (True) Love Story

photo credit: Israel Palacio

Once upon 1982, I stood on a stage with a few girls who actually had talent and choked out the Christmas carol, “Silver Bells.” I did not know this would be one of the defining moments of my life.

Weeks before, I crashed the hand-picked ensemble simply by showing up to the practice. Our music teacher, a Mr. Komenski, had exactly zero penchant for conflict, even with the eleven-year-old tuneless neophyte who lived a few rows down from his own trailer and when bored, would shut off his electric at the main. (All the boxes were together in a central location behind the trailers, easily reachable. Duh.) My friend said singing in the little group was fun and I should come. So I did. It never occurred to either of us that Mr. Komenski had a say in it.

This is how (true) love stories begin. WIth a girl who can’t sing, a friend who can’t discern, and a music teacher who can’t say no.

Besides my unlikely moment in the spotlight, another rare incident played a part in this (true) love story: a teacher strike. I can thank a savvy administrator, who funneled two elementary schools into one, for dodging a district-wide shutdown and guiding me to my date with destiny.

I didn’t get bussed to a different elementary school, but my friend Tony did. He lived in the trailer behind mine, and together we often cut off Mr. Komenski’s electricity. Tony was in the audience on the day of the concert. Because of the teacher strike, he’d made many new friends. One of them was the intensely blue-eyed, exquisitely chiseled Bob—Bobby. BOBBY Griffiths. No one calls him that now, but this was 1982.

Bob’ll tell the story that he and Tony sat on crowded benches in the darkened auditorium, that Bob’s breath caught, that he was completely enchanted. He’ll allege there was a beautiful creature on the stage with a few other girls singing “Silver Bells.” Bobby thought perhaps his new friend Tony would know the girl, so he leaned in and asked.

“Oh that’s just Kelly Seyer,” Tony dismissed me with a wave. To Tony, I was a guy in a girl’s body before it was fashionable, before gender dysphoria. I was a tomboy when tomboys still existed. And Tony was unimpressed. But Bob would not be swayed by Tony’s (at best) 3-star rating of Kelly Seyer. Something happened to Bob that day, the soul-quickening poets try to capture in verse. To hear Bob tell it, he loved me at first sight.

I sang my Christmas song, unaware.

When shutting off Mr. Komenski’s electric became blasé, Tony and I moved on to other pursuits, one of which was finding “dates” for each other. I found the lovely Janet for him, and Tony remembered I’d somehow hypnotized Bobby at the Christmas concert. Tony’s mom drove the four of us to the mall for the afternoon. This is how I met my husband: all nerves and angst and…and we were crushed in the backseat of a wee little car. I remember that.

I remember his blond, curly hair and the red bandana around his wrist. And his veins in relief against his skin. We shared a banana split at Friendly’s. We fell into a wormhole and for three years were Bobby&Kelly. Just before tenth grade, I moved to Ohio. We wrote and called, and when I could make the seven-hour drive to Allentown, I’d visit him, even if it was just a quick lunch. When we were together, it was as if no time had passed. We talked about everything. I told him I had no friends at my new school. He couldn’t believe it. He told me his mom had cancer. I will never forget hearing that news.

Bobby became Robert. I became Mrs. Somebody Else. No fortune teller worth her salt would prophesy the us we are today. But (true) love stories are prickly mazes. Love is patient, says the Bible. The Bible means that a would-be lover ought to be patient with his beloved, but I mean that for us, Love was patient. To us, Love has been kind. Not perfect, but kind. After I moved to Ohio, we did life as best friends, worlds apart. For eight years, actually.

January 2020 is our 25th wedding anniversary, and I still think of Bob as my very best friend, my fun friend, the friend who-WILL-dance-with-me, the strong arms I fall into, the smile I crave. How did I get so blessed, you ask? How did we go from childhood sweethearts to far-away friends to Mr. & Mrs. Griffiths? That is a long story, a post for another day…

Decorating Easter eggs together 1985
Bob ran my first 5K with me 1985
Days before my craniotomy 2018
My favorite chef – Thanksgiving 2018
Personal Journey

Coffee Confession

If we were having coffee, I’d ask if you’d like to expand your caffeine horizons with some dark roast & coconut oil whirled at high speed. That’s what produced this cup of foamy, bitter love. I often put powdered collagen in as well, although only in my first cup of the day. How many cups are there in a day? I try to cut myself off at three and drink the last one before 3PM.

I’m slowly getting into my new WIP. I don’t know why I get so full of angst when I sit down to a white page and have to put something there. In the writing world, the first draft is called a crappy first draft (or another name for poo, but you get the drift). We’re supposed to throw words out there, get them down, don’t stifle the flow with grammar and eloquence and all that—which I try not to do, but it hurts my eyes, this crappy first draft. Oh, a sentence or turn of phrase here and there makes me smile, but argh!…if this isn’t a slog. I’m sharing my work as I go, something I said I wouldn’t do and that the great Stephen King advises against, but I have this lovely group of women who are kind enough to visit every two weeks, and I must have an offering. So I have to truck out the garbage and let them smell it. Keeps me humble.

Another thing that humbles/makes-me-insane: waiting on my manuscript. It’s never far from my mind that agents (or their interns) are reading Trespass. I stalk other bloggers who are in a similar position. I pray that the right agent (not just any agent) will love it and that I’ll have the grit to accept rejection. My husband calls me the trojan horse because I want to sneak inside people by way of a thrilling story and unleash my kool-aid on them. Isn’t that what Harriet Beecher Stowe did? And C.S. Lewis? And every great writer? What’s the point if we don’t have something deeper to communicate? And don’t say Marvel. Or DC Comics. Or millions of dollars. I’m still starry-eyed about writing. I hope to die that way. Just, not too soon.

My son had a swim meet Sunday, and he placed 1st in all his events, two of which were relays. Mountaintop moment! After that we spent the Superbowl with friends, which was a good thing since the game and commercials were meh. I’m slowly recovering from the flu. I thought it was a cold, but it unexpectedly turned and trampled me last week. I look forward to smelling again someday. Although I did read that you can lose your sense of smell permanently from the flu. You’re welcome.

Thanks to Eclectic Alli for getting the coffee and conversation brewing.

fiction

What You Get When You Flood Your Mind With Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”

Lenore’s Reprisal (inspired by “The Raven”)

January is a dangerous month. January is deadly. Don’t believe me? January. killed. my. Lenore.

Ok truth. A-steering-wheel-through-the-heart killed Lenore, but it was January’s fault. Lenore’ll tell it was the road, slick with ice and a blanket of snow. She’ll tell it was the brakes on the Volkswagon—that’s what did her in. But don’t you believe it.

You hear that? She’s always jingling the keys, telling me I need to take the car to the mechanic. From the garage I hear them ringing, hear her earrings and their blinging, and my guilt is ever-stinging at her mangled, undead form.

Though the Browns are playing, which is to say they’re losing, I get up when she starts her jingling because I know I’ll get no rest till I let her in the door. Why she doesn’t just come right on through—my ephemeral, vaporous wife of thirty-nine years, some of them while she lived and breathed—Lenore wants me off the couch, that’s why.

I tell her, “Wait just a minute, will ya, honey? It’s January.”

She tells me she waited for me to fix the brakes and look how that turned out. I meant to. Really.

She stands right in the way of the telly, hands on hips, keys a jangle, rusty earrings a’dangle, matted hair a crimson tangle. Who can enjoy a game with such distraction? Not I, nevermore.

“Your father wasn’t a glassblower,” I say, hoping she’ll get the hint.

She doesn’t.

I ask her to remove the serrated keys from my chest. She twists until only the key ring is visible, wrecking my PJ’s forever.

“Please?” I ask. “Take your keys from my heart, your form from my foyer, your brakes and your bangles, your oxidizing earrings and your weather-beaten bones, you zombie chore. Won’t you go? I can’t take it anymore.”

“Nevermore,” says Lenore.

photo credit: @amarnathtade

I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words class: read “The Raven” at least three times then craft a story based on it. You can change anything, POV, genre, aspects, motivations, setting, etc.