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.

 

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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.

Personal Journey

A Tale of Two Writing Gigs

Yesterday I had two writing gigs. TWO! The first one was in a library where the security guards pack heat, and there are two of them patrolling the aisles. It’s a library where you get buzzed into the restroom and there find lurking an odor more corrupt than King Tut’s tomb or my son’s gym bag. It’s a sick marriage of the two. The bathroom air makes you feel dirty.

Somehow after the break, the smell of vomit which was strong in the bathroom followed us into the classroom. Not sure if it was the baby some desperate-to-write mother brought (and I give her kudos for that brand of desperate) or if somebody puked during break and then thought a valiant push-through would be a good idea. Note: Unless you’re a bona fide anorexic, hurling on break and then returning to a roomful of healthy people is not courteous. I felt myself contracting Norovirus as we sat there. Where’s a vat of Purell? It was difficult to concentrate. And it was the first meeting. The one where everyone’s made of ice and has something to prove. There were so many students, intimacy was a challenge. Or maybe it was that the room felt haunted and there was old gum stuck to my seat.

At one point the moderator asked if anyone had written any short memoir pieces. I raised my hand. He asked what it was about. I told him.

Moderator: Wow. That sounds amazing. I’d like to read that.

Me: (shrugs like a gawky teen girl finally asked to dance) I’d like you to read it.

People with social skills don’t say things like that. Might as well have been this.

Moderator: How are you?

Me: Desperate. Want to be my friend? Oh, and I’m creeped out. Why am I in a library that feels stuck in 1925 and smells like a thousand armpits?

No. The answer is good. I’m good. Thank you, Mr. Moderator. And the answer to “I’d like to read that” is to smile. And say nothing.

My second gig was the local library’s workshop. It was like coming home. Cozy, warm, familiar. It is a blessing to have a group of people with whom I can share the journey. The “security guard” in my library only works during the after-school hours, presumably to herd the youth who use it as a way station. This should alarm us. First, because enough youth have no place to go after school and/or can’t get there because we don’t bus them. And second, because as a collective, these half-finished knobs of humanity warrant a security guard. It should alarm us that in some meeting somewhere a disheveled and half-mad librarian, fresh from wrangling obnoxious pre-teens, proposed the idea that managing other people’s kids was above her pay grade. Solution: library security.

With no lingering security guard, no rank odors assaulting my senses, the second meeting was lovely. Both were lovely in their own way. And they were hard in the way socializing is hard for an introvert. I tire quickly. My dear friend Kathleen pointed it out. She’s the kind of person who notices things. Makes her a great writer. But I wasn’t too tired to notice Cyndi sees the virtue in other people’s writing and is able to buoy a floundering, squirming author. Or how contagious Nancy’s excitement was and how useful her clever plot ideas. Larry, new to writing, has inspiring tenacity. Especially for revisions. Scott, two T’s can always be a stand-up comedian in addition to writing. Scot, one T leads us faithfully and his journalism expertise is a gift. I missed Alexia and John. The meeting lacked gore and glamour, and the two of you know why… AND lacked spirituality. Paul! Nobody’s flying when you’re not there. (And I miss your super-discerning critique.)

.

Sorry this post degenerated into a personal letter to my buds, but sometimes you just need to give a shout-out. Love to the people who sustain me, both in the physical world and you who read. My blogging friends have been the source of many smiles. To the folks beta reading my novel, thank you! Especially James, who is taking the time to discuss the clunks honestly and thoughtfully. Not only does he not crush my dream, he emboldens me.

Here’s to writing gigs, uncomfortable and comfortable! And to friends who make everything possible.

 

 

 

on writing, Personal Journey

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

2017. Crushed it. Really and truly. Those of you who know me know I beat myself up at regular intervals. I raise self-flagellation to an art form. My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself. If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do me no harm. I like to think I have an Anne Lamott aren’t-I-funny? aren’t-I-endearing? eggshell personality. Or that it comes as a side-effect of being rejected on a regular basis. All this to say, I’m not accustomed to patting myself on the back. But for 2017, I’m making an exception.

With 2017 I am thrilled, even with the number of rejections. Because rejections mean I’ve been trying. Rejections mean I’ve been hit and I’m still in the ring. In fact, I stayed in the ring and completed my first novel.

RESOLUTE was my word for 2017, and I’m proud to say it matched my year.

There is so much more to writing than just writing well. Does that seem obvious? Or confusing. I thought if I just wrote well, I’d be well read. If you build it, they will come. But noooooo. They don’t come. They don’t. You have to build it, repair it, arrange it, repair it, raze it, re-build it. Then, you may commence begging…begging for them to come. I BUILT IT, PEOPLE! You say. (then you hear the echo) You get the bullhorn out and street-preach at them.

If you build it, they will not come. You must go gather them. In 2017 I committed to spending time each day reading and commenting on fellow bloggers. The more I read, the more inspired I became. What started out as a commitment to encourage others, ended up encouraging and growing me. And along the way I’ve met some cool writer-friends.

I’m not a planner-blogger. I post whatever is in my mind. If the mind is full of cobwebs, I don’t want to give you cobwebs. I just wait. This explains my large chunks of blog silence. A commitment to a regular posting schedule is one of those things that sounds good on a list of resolutions, but is not realistic for me. My goals for 2018 are to get Trespass represented, publish more shorts and flashes, and have less cobwebs.

My 2017 writing accomplishments.

  1. Finished my novel, Trespass. It’s out to beta readers now, and I hope to send it to agents in 2018.
  2. Four works accepted for publication.
  3. Several flash/shorts out to literary journals, awaiting news.
  4. Wrote/edited almost every day.
  5. Took part in writing contests whenever I needed a break from my novel.

It was a physical year as well.

  1. Hiked a volcano in February.
  2. Ran my first ten miler in April.
  3. Ran my first half marathon in October.
  4. Got slow and fat over Christmas.

My whole family had a sort of Rocky Balboa year. Perhaps this stuff is contagious. I credit my husband with getting the ball rolling. Each of my children worked hard, challenged themselves, and took giant strides out of their comfort zones—whether it was a work promotion, a new sport, or an ambitious school schedule.

This is how my kids inspire me: I’ll be jogging, feeling like someone scooped out the flesh of my quads and put led in there…wanting very badly to walk. Or fall over. Then I think of one of my kids and how they don’t stop when it gets hard…and I don’t stop either. I can’t give less than I ask of them. Competition at its finest. And the more I overcome in one area, it spills over onto others. I expect 2018 will have its challenges and blows. If it please God, I plan to stay in the ring.

Happy New Year!