on writing, Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share: Things to Say Yay! About

If we were having coffee I’d be smiling enormously. Two weeks ago today an agent requested my full manuscript. My reaction: eeeeeeeeck! Then another agent requested my manuscript. And…holy-too-good-to-be-true Batman! A THIRD AGENT REQUESTED MY FULL MANUSCRIPT. For my non-writer friends, this is like winning the lottery three times in a row. I’ve spilled my coffee all over myself with my Italian arm-waving at this point, I’m so dang excited.

I withdrew my query letter from Query Shark, the site that taught me how to craft a query. At first I was hesitant to withdraw it because I so wanted Janet’s perspective, but I know that the query itself is doing its job. At three requests I can’t in fairness ask her to critique it. If you have a completed manuscript and want to make sure agents actually read your first pages, read Janet’s entire site. That’s what I did. She says over and over that the key is reading the entire site, and it’s true. There is no substitute, no short cut or hack. It’s hours and hours and hours of work, I’m not going to lie. But it’s fun too. Janet’s witty as all get out.

Now I’m waiting. The idea that agents are looking at my story…chills, I tell you. So I’m doing the next right thing (besides checking my email a thousand times a day), which is beginning my second novel. It took about a week for me to not dread showing up at the blank screen. Now that the story’s rolling, I’m completely digging it.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have had some lovely walks, some nights by the fire, and lots of time to chat at Gabe’s swim meets. Love watching swim meets, even for six+ hours. When Gabe isn’t competing (99% of the time), I read or prepare for a class I teach. Or throw down a Starbucks and wiggle and squirm on the bleacher seats until the caffeine works its way through my bloodstream.

Today everything was closed because of the big storm. Abbott did not like how the snow ticked his belly when he went out to do his business. He whimpered and ran back to the door. I sternly told him to man up (a very unpopular directive in these Gillette times), but he can’t understand me anyway. He got my tone, got back in the drifts and did what he had to do…

Later, Luke and Anna played with him. He decided he very much likes the deep snow. Just like anything new, he just had to give it a chance. Thanks to Eclectic Ali for the Weekend Coffee Share. 🙂

And here he is, Abbott, my rockstar dog.

 

 

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fiction

The Perks of Galactic Transport

Uncle Asbestos brings me presents when his tour is done. There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.

He removes his helmet with a wry smile and dramatic sloth.

My fidgeting betrays my impatience.

He inside-outs his pockets and a slew of my favorite tiny, multi-colored creatures fall out. I squeal. We play with them until they run out of battery life. Uncle says I just need to let them recharge. I suggest hooking them up to a v-tube to see if they’d stay animated longer, but he laughs. “It would blow them right up, little one. Just enjoy them while you can. I’ll get more next time.”

“Where do they come from?” I ask as I toss the wiggling creatures into the air and catch almost all of them. Their noise reminds me of the frantic whirring of tine bugs, pests that nest in the humidors. Uncle says the toys are made of calcium. Can you imagine? No wonder they break so easily.

At school, I pull them out of my pocket and dump a pile of them on the lunch table. They try to scrabble away, but we make a corral out of trays and silverware. I’m the envy of all the kids.

“I wish my uncle was a galactic transporter.”

“Me too.”

All my friends agree Uncle Asbestos has the coolest job ever. I get the best gifts.

Suddenly, a loud sound (for them) issues from one. Then it loses all animation.

“Careful.” I rebuke my friend. “You squeezed it too hard.”

“Sorry. Can I keep it? It’s broken anyway.”

“Yes, but not too long. They stink once the batteries go.”

My friend tweezes the limp, pinkish creature with four appendages and one dense tuft of fur. “So strange…where’s your uncle get these again?”

“Earth.”

This flash was inspired by Microcosms, a weekly flash fiction contest, and was first runner-up. I had to incorporate this sentence into the piece: There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.

on writing

I Resolve, Therefore I Am

…going to get this life under complete control. That’s what I tell myself between Christmas and January, the only time I ever think about making a standard work list that includes a time slot specifically devoted to chopping vegetables and organizing the fridge.

Here’s how resolution delusion plays out: Starting January 2nd, I’m going to find myself suddenly shirking cake balls and Boursin cheese—and, desperate for snap peas, I’ll handily pluck some out of the sanitized cold box that has a method inside there. All because I resolved. I’ll be popping radishes and snacking on seaweed.

The way things work now is I go to the store after the obligatory quota of there’s-no-food-in-the-house! rants. My sons fry pepperoni, use up all the eggs, and when they’re really desperate they open the freezer and cook something. I know it’s almost time to go shopping when that happens. The actual time is the moment we run out of heavy cream or coffee.

2018. I honestly don’t even know how to frame it. I’ve been a student of calamity (I’ll thank you, March, for my brain tumor) and valedictorian of the Rocky Balboa School of Right Hooks (I’ll thank you for the querying process on my debut novel).

But heck, let’s remember the high points. I just went through my most recent notebook, in which I wrote goals and thoughts. In 2017 I had a story rejected by a local literary journal. That same (revised) story was published in a sci-fi anthology. And the local journal nominated a different piece for Best Small Fictions 2019. Progress! Two years ago a paying lit journal rejected one of my stories, and in 2018 accepted one. My work is presently knocking at the doors of two crazy-selective lit mags. This means I’m more likely to get rejected. Each time I get rejected, I re-examine the piece, edit if necessary (it always is), and send it out again. That’s the Rocky Balboa School of Right Hooks. You keep getting up. Keep submitting.

In November, I wrote a 50 paragraph “short” story for Owl Canyon’s Hackathon. They gave paragraphs 1 and 25 and asked writers to supply the rest (and match the tone of course). I thought it would be a fun, like a puzzle. Walt Whitman didn’t break that much of a sweat penning “Leaves of Grass.” As the hours in-craft stretched into double digits, I consoled myself I could win the prize because no one else was crazy enough to attempt such literary alchemy. Last year they had north of 900 entries—just found that out as I wrote this. Excuse me while I claw out my eyeballs.

Hope’s a funny thing. It’s not rational. But neither is thinking I’m going to get a handle on my veggies in 2019. Still, I’m resolving. You probably are too. Here’s to some of them sticking in 2019 and one piece of advice. Make resolutions you can control. Example: I will get either 100 rejections or an agent in 2019 vs. I will get an agent in 2019. I cannot control whether or not an agent signs me, but I can decide on how many attempts I’ll make. Likewise, I can’t control how organized the fridge is (I have teenage sons, after all), but I can decide to roll up my sleeves every six months or so and get in there and organize. Happy New Year!

 

Personal Journey

Day of Words: Christmas

November 23 was designated the International Day of Words, by the FundaciĂłn CĂ©sar Egido Serrano to promote “the word as a bond of humanity, against any violence.” What can mere words do, you ask, against any violence? Being a lover of words, I believe they can do great wonders.

Consider the words of Christmas.

Peace. Merry. Bright. Shining. Give. Happy. Love. Light. Noel. Christmas is a season of words. The words we share are warm and loving; they wrap us in a common spirit of hope and renewed wonder. On this day we speak and think words of peace. We try to right wrongs, to balance the scales of circumstance with donations and gifts. Wherever we perch on the continuum of humanity, on Christmas we find ourselves sliding toward the benevolent. All but the Scroogiest of us.

Every religion agrees: the words that get traction in our minds, they define us. Religion is often about getting the best words to stick. Words bind or separate; they are the sharpest of knives. Words heal if in a physician’s hands, but in hands of a thug, they cut.

Here are some less obvious Christmas words: In the beginning was the Word (it’s capitalized by the ancients), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Why is Jesus called the Word? Why not the painting? The voice? The music?

Because words, once set down, last. I tell this to my students to get them to write and to write more carefully. For me, Christmas is the Day of the Word. What happened on Christmas parallels what happened in my heart. One day roughly twenty years ago, the Word came to dwell in a webby, splintered place that smelled faintly of manure. It was the best present I ever received. It was always there for the taking, but I had to reach out and accept. Each Christmas I’m thankful all over again.And now, some Christmas words for you, my friends and family. May you get the best gifts, the ones that don’t break or fall out of fashion. May the season be full of words that hug your soul and make you smile. xoxo – Kelly

Homeschool Life

Congratulations Fall 2018 Contest Winners!

Each session, 5000 Words culminates with a peer-judged writing contest. Our last few classes are devoted entirely to workshops, which are the faves of mine and my students. After surviving the gauntlet of peer critique (in which the writer must remain absolutely silent), students polish and edit their stories to a brilliant shine. Why silent, you ask? Because if it’s not on the page, it doesn’t matter. Since the author can’t sit on the reader’s shoulder filling in all the things they meant to say, everything has to be on the page. It has to be clear. Confusion is the death knell of a story. So we sit around and tell what confuses. Or what works. Or we give ideas. Those are the best. I love seeing a story go nuclear because of suggestions in our workshop.

At the end of the critique, students get a chance to answer a few of the charges, but they know audience perception is more important than what they meant to say. A two-inch-thick stack of hardcopy critiques and as much time as they’re willing to devote is the revision program. They post their shined-up stories to their WordPress sites and anonymously vote for their favorites. I am proud of ALL my students’ stories. The magic is in the revisions. Click the titles to read some dazzling romance, sci-fi, and drama.

First Place – Finally Home by Katelyn Steyer

Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past four years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.

Second Place – The Implant by Ethan Zabka

Ethan Zabka is 13 and in 8th grade. He enjoys writing, especially scary, tension-filled stories. Other hobbies of his include basketball, soccer, and piano. He also enjoys spending time with friends and family. He loves math and wants to pursue a career in engineering.

Third Place – Year of Change by Rachel Carpenter

Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. Dance is her passion and career choice but has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on the mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.

Personal Journey

If We Were Having Coffee…

…we’d be sitting in Panera because my son has Psychology at the local community college, and I drive him. It’s his first time taking a class, and he alternately loves and hates it. I put him there for two reasons: 1. Psychology is interesting, and 2. I’ll take any opportunity to get him off the couch for a subject.

Because I’m a homeschool mom and no matter how hard I try, I elicit minimal motivation from my kids, which is why Gabe finds himself under the tutelage of a woman who’s been teaching Psychology 101 longer than he’s been alive. So far so good.

I love the mornings I’m “forced” to grab coffee at Panera. Funny thing is, I keep moving around to get away from people talking to each other and talking on phones because I crave silence. So, if we were having coffee together, I’d likely be running away from you, paradoxically.

I’ve enjoyed the coffee posts of Russell Mercer, which is why I’ve decided to give it a go. That, and I get an itch to blog every once in a while. What stops me is my obsessive need to edit and my doubly-obsessive need to write fiction. I’d take a sip of my hazelnut/dark roast mix and tell you I’m in love with my WIP and am actively searching for an agent, which is to say I’m in a level of hell between where cats go who eat plants and where dogs end up who steal food from counters.

Because it stopped raining for a few seconds on Sunday, my husband and I (and everyone else in Northeastern Ohio) took a walk. Whenever a dog passes by we have a dogzaster, which is Abbott, yanking and barking his head off and scrambling for purchase while Bob holds his feet a few inches off the ground so that he’s actually pawing air, thus saving the other dog from annihilation. You’re welcome, little kitten-dog.

I took a jog through the park on Saturday and the beauty distracted me from the pain in my quads. When you look at the picture above, you can see why. Creation is magnificent. (As is the hottie holding the leash.)

I hope you enjoyed your coffee. Next week we’ll have it with heavy cream. That sounds like it’ll be a heavy conversation and I admit many of my posts could begin Father forgive me, for I have sinned… but I’m going to try to remember we’re having coffee, not shots. Thanks, Eclectic Alli, for getting the coffee and conversation brewing.

 

Homeschool Life

Flash Contest Winners!

How exciting to see 19 entries for what became a Halloween-themed flash fiction contest! My students regularly create a flash story as part of my class, and a good competition throws our motivation into high gear. Thank you to my blogging friends, writing friends, and friend-friends who participated and made the collection of stories diverse and compelling. I hope they were as fun for you to write as they were for me to read.

Many thanks to our judge, Laura Kennelly. I always appreciate the objectivity of blind judging (no names/credentials associated with the entries).

Laura worked as a freelance arts columnist and reporter for the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, and served as associate editor for BACH, a scholarly journal about J. S. Bach and his circle, published by the Riemenschneider Bach Institute at Baldwin-Wallace College. At the University of North Texas, she was editor of The Avesta, the campus literary magazine, as well as an arts writer for the Campus Chat. Check out her weekly column in CoolCleveland.com.

And now…the winning flash stories:

1st Place – Stealing Hearts and Minds by Keith Kenel

Great start and funny finish. Nice dark humor. – Laura

Jane was known for stealing hearts: She also liked to collect other body parts, but hearts were her hands down favorite. She longed for romance hot as a five-alarm-fire, a boyfriend so salsa that he was off the Scoville-Chili-Pepper-Scale. Her fruitless search for a boy that swept her off her feet left Jane feeling dead and empty inside. She knew the warm, loving embrace of a custom-made-mensch was just what the cardiologist ordered, and since her search for a proper boy-born-of-woman had proven fruitless the ghoul, er girl, decided to create the perfect boyfriend, bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece.

It started innocently enough, a stolen glance, a stolen kiss, but soon Jane went from misdemeanor infractions to major felonies; breaking into hospitals and stealing dialysis patients’ kidneys, cataract sufferers’ eyeballs and tipplers’ livers. Her constructive surgery had been slow, but she finally had her golem, her synergistic masterpiece that was far greater than the sum of her stolen and quilted parts. Jane had her mensch and he was fine as frog-fur, a cover that’s known to be mighty fine.

Having leapfrogged over obstacles, tonight she and her made-man Verde Greenia were stepping out for the first time. She’d selected a romantic French restaurant that featured spécialités du tuyau guaranteed to get libidinous juices flowing. The evening began with champagne and oysters-on-the-half-shell and would end with juicy-juicy-mangoes, figs and dark chocolate. Jane ordered Quiche Lorraine while Verde selected cerveaux.

Verde was perfectly attentive, a boy literally made to order, and dinner was sublime. Dinner was sublime that is until the main course arrived. It was then that Verde grunted, “Brains!” and lopped off the top of Jane’s head and devoured her cerveuax, proving once again that no matter how charming the zombie, brains are always at the top of his mind.

2nd Place – Halloween Love by The Dark Netizen

I liked the irony of the “same time next year” set up and the “potential tooth decays.” – Laura

I sat in the diner, looking out of the nearest window.

The street was bustling with activity. I could see all sorts of weird monsters and creatures of terror roaming about. After all, it was Halloween night, and everyone had something to do. The children were scurrying about in their cute costumes, angling for as many potential tooth decays as they could. The adults were party hopping, all gussied up in the sexy versions of vampires, werewolves, and other famous monsters, or rather whichever costumes were available in the store.

It was almost midnight. I was extremely excited. It had been so long since I had been on a date. I knew I was looking great. The hungry stares that had followed me ever since I got out of my house were evidence enough. However, I couldn’t help but have butterflies in my stomach. I figured I would drown them with some ice cream soda. Just as the soda arrived, I noticed a figure wearing a slightly old fashioned, but expensive looking suit. My date had finally arrived.

I watched as the love of my life shuffled into the diner and made his way slowly to where I was sitting. As he approached me, he fetched out a rose from his pocket and offered it to me. He was so romantic. I took the rose from him and kissed him on the cheek.

He moaned in delight. I asked him how the year had gone for him. He moaned in response. Okay yes, I do speak zombie. Yes, the love of my life is of the undead variety. However, I loved him and he loved me. This was the only night of the year we could meet and celebrate our love.

Our Halloween Love…

3rd Place – Untitled by Ella Steyer

Nice switch from the usual POV. – Laura

My mind excelled in areas similar to these. The humans bustling from shop to shop, the fragrance of unhealthy food, and the racket of motion from every which way. The noises varied from a woman speaking with her colleague to a taxi screeching to a halt. I strolled across the hectic sidewalk, remaining near my companion. He used to be uneasy of the unknown streets, but we’ve grown fond of them. Our daily walk helped us improve together.

Of course, not all was pleasant. My companion didn’t witness the stares we received or the whispers following, but I did. Some days we walked with confidence, while others we struggled with the monumental obstacles. The world consisted of people good and bad. It wasn’t complicated to recognize the difference. On one challenging walk, a young boy pretended to trip my companion, simply to gain laughter from his friends. I growled at them until each was out of sight.

The morning of our last walk, the street was busier than usual. My mind stayed on high alert as we strolled up to the crosswalk. My companion and I started stepping across the street in a leisurely manner. All was fine; until the screeching came. The impact tore me to the ground, skidding across the concrete. The urgent voices rang out before everything went black.

The day of our last walk continuously disturbs me. My heart yearns for the kindness I found in my companion, but that morning in the bustling city was my last few moments with him. I had failed in sustaining his safety. The therapy in our relationship worked both ways. My reason in life was gone, and among it took my loving companion away from me.

Congratulations to the writers who challenged themselves to create something where before, something didn’t exist.