on writing, Personal Journey

This Happens to be an Excuse

…as to why I’d temporarily abandon my blog. Something happens when you don’t write regularly: you get stiff-brain. You believe you don’t have anything worthy to say, even though your friends are posting about their new moisture-repelling socks and how potty training’s going with the puppy (with pictures). Things, big things, happen, but you neglect to write them down. Poof. What was that thing I was soooo keen to write about?

I now have an idea how my students feel when they walk into my living room, clutching their 3-ring binders to their chests, telling me they have absolutely NOTHING to write, that no words exist in the folds of grey matter, snug inside their still-growing skulls. (Incidentally, a skull continues growing as long as a person ages. It’s the only bone that does that, say the folks at Duke University, and it accounts for elderly droop-face too.)

Big as my brain is getting, the space left by my recently-removed brain tumor has proven to be a bit of a chasm for my synapses or whatever things jump around in there, keeping me on track. I can write a post, but sometimes I forget simple things, like my schedule or the sentence just spoken. Eh? What was that again?

The unsettledness of moving got me out of the habit of writing, and I’m just now getting back into it. My soul itches to create something, but so far all I’ve been able to do is tweak my WIP and query a few more agents. I’m still bereft of a rejection letter, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been rejected. Many agents don’t even bother with a rejection email. I just have to wait until so much time elapses, then assume I’m rejected.

Confession: I have an agent I really want. He was the first person to whom I sent my manuscript because he represents authors I adore. He always replies, and I should hear from him soon. I’ve been Twitter-stalking him and am ready to be devastated if he rejects my manuscript. All I want is a request for more. Then, if he doesn’t take me on after that, I can lick my wounds and keep going. What am I saying? I’ll lick my wounds and keep going no matter what. Because that’s what writers do. Just today, I re-fell in love with my novel while editing it for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some neat acceptances on my shorter works. One, an edgy and controversial piece, will be coming out in October. It’s a science fiction story influenced by C.S. Lewis and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If nothing else, you should read it to find out how that mix of inspiration is possible.

Wishing you well until the next woefully overdue post.

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Personal Journey

Unexpected Kindnesses

It’s been 2+ months since my brain surgery, and I’m clawing my way back to the level of energy I once enjoyed—happy to be thus clawing. When I am tired and things don’t get done, I smile and thank God I’m alive, that I’m here to sink into the couch after pulling a bit of weeds, here to forget my bank account number or the time of an appointment or to hit submit (oops). Everyone assures me they also forget such things, so who knows what’s to blame? My skull has a funny little dent, but with some finesse I can cover it with my hair.

Today I had an appointment with an oral surgeon. Before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I had this lesion in my mouth that wouldn’t go away. I’d searched Google and was certain I’d be dying of mouth cancer. I was just about to make an appointment with my dentist when I had another, more pressing issue…pressing on my brain. I remember Bob coming home from work one day and I was having a fit about the unfairness of it all, of having imminent brain surgery, of having to paint the uncooperative stair rails, and of then dying from mouth cancer.

I got over myself and purposed to trust God. In fact, every time I ran my tongue over the lesion I would pray and ask God to increase my trust in Him. And He humbled me again, even in this “little” mouth issue (everything is little now).

Setting: The oral surgeon’s office. First, he looks in my mouth and pronounces that it doesn’t even need to be biopsied. Yay! —no waiting to know if it’s benign. (I’ve waited quite a bit this year.) And then he asks if he should cut if off. I tell him: not if it doesn’t need to be. You know me, the minimalist. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke and all. But he says it’ll be quick and easy, and I figure I should let him since I’m in the chair already. He numbs my mouth and does his thing, which is easier than getting a cavity filled. Then he says, “That’s it. No charge today.” And out he walks.

What?! Who does that? His assistant did tell me he was nice. I’d heard good things about him, but this…this brought tears to my eyes. I had walked into the office feeling anxious and praying, and I walked out in tears, thanking God for the kindness shown me.

The other unexpected blessing came from dear friends who want to bless us with a place to live while we’re between houses. What are the chances their rental would be available exactly the two weeks we’re homeless? Over tea, my friends told me God clearly aligned the dates so we can use the house, that I should thank Him, not them.

So much is going on, and I’ve neglected my blog. Sorry! But I’ve been focused on getting my manuscript agent-ready. I finally began submitting it and am in the wonderful bubble of no-response, the one where I don’t even have one rejection under my belt and am free to dream great big dreams of getting an agent with titanic clout, of seeing the movie-version of my book. I remind myself that the greats were rejected, and I will be too.

Just before my surgery, a piece of mine was accepted by The Forge Literary Magazine. It was a great feeling, especially because I had been rejected by The Forge back in 2016. It’s my own try, try again story, and I hope it will buoy me during the soul-crush of agent rejections. If you are a writer, do keep at it. Keep submitting. Every day you read and write is a day your writing’s improving. The Forge interviewed me about the piece, and I found that analyzing my writing was just as hard as writing in the first place! But it was a good exercise, and I look forward to sharing the story with you when it goes live in July.

 

 

Personal Journey

Writing: The Reach that Doesn’t Sleep or Die

I am blessed to have people who believe in me, even (and especially) when I don’t believe in myself. Like the ones who scrawled my work-in-progress in the sand while they were vacationing. We thought of you, it said. We love you, it said. I now understand why writers make such a big deal about thanking the ones who’ve helped them along the way.

Some mornings I open my email to find comments on my blog. I LOVE comments. And I try to be generous with them too, as opposed to just liking a post and skipping away (although I do that too). Recently, I woke to this gift in my inbox:

I love your style of writing—humorous, entertaining, inspirational—the way I aspire to write one day. I’ve been enjoying reading several of your posts, some old, some new—they encourage me to relax and write and not worry about things (people’s opinions) so much. Thanks for that!

In addition to giving me a smile, Mia demonstrated what I love about writing. It reaches out to people even while I sleep. Posts I wrote months or years ago don’t have an expiration date. It doesn’t matter that it’s been 23 years since I wore pillowcases into America or four years since my brain-tumor-your-van’s-broken moment. To a new friend, it’s new. King Tut, centuries dead and forgotten, was new to us when he was unearthed. Reading is archaeology without the dirt. Writing is setting down buried treasures for someone else to find.

This, I tell my students. Our minds are always changing and evolving. Our opinions (if we’re not bullheaded or hopelessly dogmatic) will change over time and with experience. Just this morning, I read about a fellow blogger’s mental evolution on diversity. His post reads like a mind map of tolerance. And I love that it’s set down for people to happen along, long after he’s moved on to other revelations.

That’s the motivation for writing my novel too. I want to put some world down on paper, set it down so people can pick it up and enter it for the first time. We’ll have a connection. I won’t even need to be awake, alive, and certainly not present—which is perfect for the introvert in me.

I happened on this picture of a barn. It looks just like the barn in my novel, which is also on a hill and has woods behind it. Trespass asks what if? What if someone was given the ability to read minds? What if she liked a certain amazing guy and wanted to know if he liked her? What if she read his mind? Imagine the chaos for a teenage girl to have access to the minds of teenage boys and the world at large.

Soon you won’t have to imagine, because I’ve written it all down…

And I’ll finish this little update with a shout out to my husband, who champions my writing and is a man of grit and steel who ever leads me to be a better, stronger version of myself.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Some bloggers reel me in—usually with a strong literary voice and brutal honesty. I’m a sucker for poetic confession. We all struggle inside ourselves, and I appreciate a writer who can fly that flag and call it fiction or essay or Dear Diary…

MrHushHush is one such blogger, so when I saw he was looking for beta readers, I jumped at the chance to swap books with someone whose work I admire. So glad I did!  

Thanks for the nomination, Jordan!

What is this Sunshine Blogger Award?

This award is given by bloggers to fellow bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

Why did you start blogging? Until blogs, the only thing I could self-publish was the yearly Christmas card. I love putting my mind on a blank page. Or is it my blank mind on a page? It’s not that I think my mind is any more interesting than the next one, but I think we can, by writing, capture our minds at various stages of life, stages we won’t ever get back again. My blog is a history, for what it’s worth.

Who is your favorite blogger? No way. Can’t choose just one.

What keeps you going and motivated? Sheer love of craft, and when that doesn’t work, YouTube videos like this one:

PS – I listen to these while peddling away on my recumbent bike. Nothing beats getting yelled at by Sylvester Stallone while you’re sweating enough to hydrate a Willow tree.

What is your weirdest habit? See above. No. I’m even weirder than that. My weirdest habit is so weird I’m going to give you my second weirdest one, which is that I allow my dog to lick the sweat off my arms and legs when I return from a long run or get off the recumbent bike.

What is your favorite cuisine? My humble beginnings don’t allow for cuisine, but I have an addiction to Mitchell’s salted caramel ice cream.

What is a personality trait you would like to change in yourself? I’d like to silence the little voice that tells me I suck.

What are the first three things you always notice in a person? How firm the handshake, how steady the eye contact, and whether they’d be a protagonist or an antagonist.

Which is the best book you have read to date? Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. A coming-of-age story about a cadet at the Citadel. Pat Conroy builds the most beautiful mind I’ve ever read. If I live to be a hundred years old, I don’t think I’ll be able to write like him. But I’ll give it a go.

How do you deal with negative comments or hurtful feedback? I curl into the fetal position for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the hit. Then I transition onto my couch, where I type out swaths of rage until my fingers and mind are numb. Then, click select all/delete. I pray and ask God to remind me of how little I am and how big He is and I do the next right thing, whatever that is. Usually, it’s laundry.

What is your goal in life? To write fiction that pulls people out of this world and provides a temporary refuge in another. But also, to write books that not only mirror the human condition but underscore how we can be the best version of ourselves.

To my nominations, I hope you’ll play along because I look forward to hearing your answers to these questions!

My Nominations:

Nancy

Nthato

Kelvin

Magarisa

Wezlo 

Keith

Russel

Peggy

Brian

Cyndi

Michael

 

 

on writing

A Writing Exercise on Mood Creation

Two canoes.

With a rope I drag one behind me and return to the place. The empty canoe yaws and straggles and hampers so I have to relearn my paddle. Last time the water was serrated, chopped into spades by homeless and invisible gusts. The sudden rain made the most fragile bubbles when it struck the lake. Last time out we weren’t concerned about a squall or fragility. All our bubbles till then were blown from soap and sticks and had iridescent rivers on their hardy surfaces.

I row. I decide that today, if it strikes me, the rain will run right off in jagged rivulets. I row harder. My hitching breaths throw their own quick ghosts that die off like unspoken words. An ache develops in my shoulders. I row until they are screaming.

Today the water has no pulse. Even the jostling canoes don’t mar the reflection. Clouds rise like saints in white robes, their unhurried legions make a serpentine ascent to the treetops, to the colorless sky.

From tall, parlous grasses red-winged blackbirds shriek complaints to one another. Then in a black conflagration, they launch into space. They glide, unhinged from gravity. Fish too, wend unconcerned through a watery, leaden passage that hungers in silent patience.

My fat canoe sits next to your sleek canoe and I cannot help but think how unfair that is. Both are grey steel.

They say it’s low lying clouds, not ghosts rising up all over the water like a rapture.

I don’t believe them.

This is an assignment I gave to my 5000 Words class: write a 500+ word description of a lake. The key was that someone they knew had drowned in that lake. They were to describe the lake, the emotion coming through in the description alone, not the story of what happened to the victim. As I began to do this assignment, I found it difficult to make the word count without dipping into plot. So I allowed my students to tell a story in addition to describing the lake.  

on writing, Personal Journey

My Muse Experience

Anne Lamott calls it her broccoli. Stephen King calls it his beast.

My beast was asleep. I tried prodding him, kicking him, calling him bad names. No roars. No lightning bolts of creativity. Just me, slapping words on a page with the precision of a toddler, becoming more and more certain I was wasting my time.

Writers have a chronic god-complex: the need to create something amazing. Luckily the god-complex comes with a handy counterbalance: rejection. One moment you’re in rags talking to mice and the next you’re wearing the grandest gown of all, dancing with the prince. Then the clock strikes twelve, and you’re in rags again. This is the rejection-acceptance wheel, and—from what I can tell—it never ends.

So I’m writing, and there’s this nagging feeling that it’s garbage, what I’m putting on the page. The urge to do something practical like dishes starts to rise to the top of my consciousness like sweet cream. I’m cobbling together this little flash, hating it with a Frankensteinian passion, and hating myself for the time I could never get back (the dishes weren’t cleaning themselves). Several times I threw up my hands in frustration. I said mean things to the screen. When I think how close I came to shutting off my laptop and forging ahead with my day, story unfinished, I cringe.

Because now, I love that little flash. It’s one of my favorites.

At some point in the process, the story began to have a pulse. I don’t know when, exactly. But it was as if skin was grafted to some dead thing. Beautiful skin. And I thought: I like that arm. Then, I like that leg, that face, and so on. Until I thought, where did you come from, oh great and glorious creation? 

Well I’ll be. You came from me.

I love a happy ending.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

The Most Dangerous Thing We Do

Once this kid—my passenger—grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard over while I was driving. Not just a little tug, mind you, but a full-on we-gonna-die! yank. The kind that elicited a blood-curdling scream and a shouted sermon. A 19-year old preaching car safety to a 15-year-old. This kid was all charm and immortality and sass. The car fetched and yawed but it didn’t crash into a telephone pole. He thought my fear was funny.

At age nineteen I hadn’t become comfortable yelling at people. That’s why the moment sticks. Now I yell at people for a living. Pro bono. Homeschool mom.

It wasn’t a year after the steering wheel incident I found myself looking at a car, at a half-unwrapped McDonald’s egg McMuffin. The driver’s seat was crushed, crenulated like those paper fans we made in elementary school. The sandwich was in the foot well. He must have had it in his hand when he threw the wheel too hard over. Must’ve dropped between his feet as the car began its flip.

An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force.

This kid, he lay in a hospital bed on life support, monumentally acted upon. His hands were warm from the machines pumping his blood around. All the damage was on the inside where we couldn’t see. This is true for us, too.

Apparently, his brain was dead. I didn’t buy it. Too warm. Too much like sleep. Were I his mother, you’d have to pare me from that beautiful boy with a hacksaw. I’d cling like apple peel. I still do.

I still hold to him. Still yell at him. See him in my own 17-year-old son who drives like telephone poles don’t exist. He thinks my fear is funny too.

My friend began telling this post as if it really happened before remembering it was an entry for a flash fiction contest. I remember her waving it away and saying “…it didn’t really happen.” But it did. Not exactly as I told it, but it did happen, and it happens every day. For most people, getting in our cars is the most dangerous thing we do.