Dark Reality and My Writing Journey

The young girl lay in her bed under a dusty rose comforter with delicate white flowers. Stuffed animals graced the sides of her bed, while extra blankets folded over her feet made her feel safe and  secure whenever she fell asleep. The early morning sun began to sneak in through the window over her bed, despite the curtains pulled across to block out the light. 

The girl clutched her covers around her. She had been awake for  a while now, before the golden light seeped into the room. Despite the beauty of the morning, she didn’t want to turn her head toward the empty bed across the room–deserted by her older sister when she left for college a few weeks before. She wasn’t afraid of the empty bed, but of what she had seen on and  around that bed upon waking up. 

I can’t look. What if they’re still there? She knew she had to look. It must have been a dream. I imagined it.

She turned her head.

It wasn’t a dream. She saw the bodies piled on her sister’s bed–emaciated bodies with dark circles underneath dead eyes and bald heads. Next to them was an even bigger pile of skulls and other bones  in a jumble. 

She wanted to scream but couldn’t find the breath.

She stared in shock for several long minutes, rubbing her eyes and blinking in the hopes that the nightmare would end. She couldn’t find her voice to call out for help.  After what felt like a long fifteen minutes the image shifted. The piles turned into the reality of her bedroom. The bodies turned into pillows and clothes she had put on her sister’s bed. The bones turned into knickknacks and collectibles on her sister’s bedside table.

She was back into reality, but she knew it wasn’t a dream.Dusty rose bedspread

***

A few days ago I mentioned how the mini-series The Holocaust helped me recognize the power of words. In a comment on that post the fabulous Kathy mentioned how the Holocaust influenced her desire to become a writer. Kathy’s words and images on Lake Superior Spirit never fail to inspire me and give me moments of peace, so we are all blessed by the fact that she found inspiration in the horror.

As did I, but I’ve also found challenges because of it. For you see, that little girl under the rose-pink bedspread was me. That vision or hallucination or glimpse at memory was mine, and I was wide awake.

The miniseries sparked a sort of fascination within me, where I wanted to learn more and understand more about how such horror could happen, how mankind could be so cruel based on things so invisible and meaningless–differences in culture, in belief, in race. I became a voracious reader of Holocaust literature, starting with The Diary of Anne Frank and moving up to more mature and adult fare. (I was a very advanced reader). I talked with Mrs. Sekler, my Hebrew School teacher and the  only person I knew who had the blue numbers etched into her arm.

Until the day I saw the bodies and the bones.

I told my parents what happened,  and they said I had to stop reading Holocaust literature. They said it was probably a dream, fueled by the books. So I stopped until I was an adult and could handle it again.

What does this have to do with my writing journey?

I know my biggest flaw as a writer, if I want to make it as a successful author of fiction, especially YA/NA, I need to be willing to write darker material. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of eerie or creepy pieces, and my characters often have a dark side. They aren’t always flitting with fairies and riding on rainbows. However, I could never have written The Hunger Games because I can’t get myself to write about young people killing young people. I can’t write the descriptive and violent darkness found  in so many successful books these days.

I’m blocked when it comes to that stuff.

Yet, in a world where this cruelty exists every day, in blatant and subtle forms, I have to confront my own inability. I live in a country where a loud and powerful minority want to maintain their flimsy and mostly imagined supremacy by limiting the rights of others to things like healthcare, marriage, control of their own bodies, and the right to worship as they please. How is that different from the desire  to have a “Master Race”? I live in a world of rape-culture where the victims get blamed and the rapists get glorified. I live in a world where people are murdered by guns, while others cling to their rights to have weapons built only for the purpose of killing lots of people as quickly as possible. I live in a world where women are tortured and brutalized every day for reasons as meaningless as the desire to become educated. I live in a world where people are still judged by the color of their skin, the way they worship, the language they speak, or the way they dress.

I live in a cruel world.

If I want to become  the writer I dream to be, I need learn how to write about that world, in the  voice of that world. I need to embrace the possibility of seeing the darkness, the violence,  the pain with my own waking eyes, and then combating it with the power of my words.

This is my challenge to myself. This is my writing journey.

So You’ve Written a Manuscript . . . Now What?

Manuscript babyDespite my lack of words when it comes to blogging and/or new work over the past couple of months, I have slowly but steadily been working on editing the manuscript of my YA/NA novel that I finished a full draft of last December. Along with that draft I had written a sample Agent Query , a sample Submission Cover Page, and a summary. I sent that (along with a revised chapter) to my Instructor for the course I was taking, all before my father passed.

To tell you the truth, the day after my father passed away, I completed a major edit of  the full document because I needed to focus on something other than my sadness. That may seem weird but it was what I needed to do.

As I waited for a response from my instructor, I sent the draft to some readers, and then did another revision based on their feedback. I finished that completely last week (or maybe two weeks ago, I don’t remember). The response from my instructor came about a month ago, followed quickly with my “diploma” for having completed the course. His comments and suggestions made me feel like I had a solid submission packet ready to go, with a few minor corrections/changes.

Still, it took me a long time to face the process. I kept finding excuses, such as I was waiting for updates on publishers or didn’t have time to find agents, or my office was too much of a mess to work in, or I forgot to bring the notes I needed to make the edits, no matter how minor, or . . .

The real problem, beyond my personal struggle and sadness, is my fear of rejection. If I send it out there and get nothing but rejection, will I ever have the courage to publish it anyway? Or will it lie gathering dust in my pile of discarded dreams, along with the manuscript of Giving Up the Ghosts that I gave up on long ago?

Here’s the reality that we all must face as writers. There are, of course, those of us who write purely for the pleasure of putting words on the page, with no intention of sharing those words. (I have journals and journals of those kinds of writing). However, if you have even the tiniest desire to have someone else read what you write, then  you must do something to put it out there, to have people read it. It does no good sitting in your computer or printed out in a pile of manuscript pages where it does nothing but gather dust.

An unread piece of fiction is nothing more than words without a home.

So what do we do with these manuscript babies?  In our world we now have several options:

  • Find an agent (which means being prepared for many rejections or simply non-responses)
  • Try to submit to traditional publishers on our own (which is hard as so many publishers want agented submissions only, and it also means being prepared for many rejections)
  • Self-publish

I’m not against the self-publishing option, and may end up going that route. However, over the past year or so I’ve read a lot of self-published books. Some of them have been excellent. Many of them could have been excellent if they had a once over from an editor or an outside-eye. It’s difficult to edit our own work, especially for beginning authors. Add to that the pressures of doing layout, creating covers, and promoting our own works and sometimes the work seems to suffer.

I don’t want that to happen to my work.

So, I’ve decided to try the traditional route first. I’m looking for agents. I may submit the full manuscript to one or two publishing houses that accept unagented works. While I wait, I intend to look into formatting the manuscript for a professional looking self-publishing approach and decide on the best platform if that ends up being my path.

All of this, of course, requires a plan and action on my part. Something which I find challenging at the moment, except in brief bursts of focused energy. Yesterday I finally got over my excuses, brought the notes, fixed the edits and prepared the material to submit to the one agent I had already selected. Now I need to buy some ink, and send it off. Once I had done all that, I began to search for other possible agents. I found a couple who looked interesting, who only accepted submissions on-line. The ink excuse no longer worked. So, I cut and paste and submitted. (I also had to write a one page summary which has now been added to the materials I am ready to submit.)

Today I signed up for a writer’s conference this May (I wasn’t really procrastinating on this one, there was a big mess-up with my pay this month so I had to wait until I had some money). I plan on submitting the first chapters for a feedback session at the conference.

Excuses are no longer acceptable.  The book is written, now it needs a home.

A Modicum of Wordplay

I love sunset, and so do crepuscular creatures great and small. Photo taken by Sarah KramerLee

Yesterday, Kathy over at Lake Superior Spirit celebrated the word “fallow” among other things. (Congratulations Kathy, on the wise words of a blind man and your popularity at the magazine).

Isn’t fallow a lovely world?

Today, as I seem to be intent on accomplishing nothing, and busy getting in my own way I began to think about words, and how wonderful words really are.  I’ve written about words in past posts in this blog, and of course I use lots of words in order to write, but today I feel like celebrating words that scintillate or titillate the tongue. Words that you feel good saying, or words that inspire images and emotions. Of course, as soon as I decided to do this, words slipped from my mind leaving me unable to express a single idea.

So I turned to friends on Facebook and asked them what their favorite words were. Several responses are not suitable for this post (but hilarious anyway). Others reminded me of the wonder of language of all types.

Here are some of people’s favorites, with definitions from Wordnik.com (The definitions themselves provide some lovely words. I bold all the words that make me happy):

  • Ort:
    1. n. A small scrap or leaving of food after a meal is completed. Often used in the plural.
    2. n. A scrap; a bit.
  • Popinjay:  A vain, talkative person. (Also a parrot)
  • Bosh: nonsense
  • tosh: foolish nonsense; twaddle, balderdash
  • Curmudgeon: An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions. [I need to use this more often]
  • Crepuscular:  [This one seems very popular, it’s fun to say so several people selected it]
    1. adj. Of or like twilight; dim: “the period’s crepuscular charm and a waning of the intense francophilia that used to shape the art market” Wall Street Journal).
    2. adj. Zoology Becoming active at twilight or before sunrise, as do bats and certain insects and bird
  • Bastante: (Spanish): enough, plenty, quite
  • Plethora: [This happens to be one of my favorites as well]
    1. . A superabundance; an excess.
    2. n. An excess of blood in the circulatory system or in one organ or area.
  • Yesterday, Sarah had an assignment to find synonyms and antonyms for the word vivacious and one of the words she came up with was bubbly which makes me feel bubbly all over.

What are some of your favorite words, in any language? 

Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, two of the greatest curmudgeons I know.

Who is “The Next Best Thing”?

According to Lorinda Taylor, over at Ruminations of a Remebrancer, it might just be me, as she nominated me for “The Next Best Thing Award.” I am really very honored by her nomination. For a while now I’ve been kind breaking rules when accepting or giving awards because I don’t feel right about selecting from the many fabulous blogs out there. However, this award struck me differently, because of the questions that go along with it. Basically, the rules say to nominate 5 other websites and answer the questions below.

The questions are what intrigue me, as this is an award for those of us who are working on books, plain and simple. It is also an opportunity for me to clarify my own understanding of my own work, which I think is important if I’m ever going to get it out in the big wide world.

So, this time I will follow directions and nominate 5 people. I am choosing people who I love to read, but also people who I know are working seriously on their own WIPs. I hope someday to have the chance to read their books in published forms. I understand if they choose not to pass the award forward, as they are all busy writing “The Next Best Thing”!

  • Victoria Walters over at Victoria-writes is one of the most inspiring, talented and brave writers I know (as well as being my long-lost twin from a different mother and different continent). She quit her day job and really committed to her dream of becoming a YA writer. Her bravery paid off, as she now has an agent and is well on her way to becoming the next best thing.
  • Andra Watkins, also known as The Accidental Cootchie Mama, is always sharing fabulous short fiction on her blog, while working on her book. She’s a brilliant writer who always amazes me with the strength of her characterizations. I can’t wait to read her book. (Oh, and I used her name for my main character, because I think they have a lot in common).
  • Darla, over at She’s a Maineiac, never fails to make me laugh and is always working on a project. I wonder what she’ll come up with next?  I hope to someday meet her and discuss books, life and parenting over some decadent treats.
  • Kate, aka 4amWriter has finally given into the call of writing, even if she has to get up at 4am to do it. While I write better in the morning, I can’t seem to drag myself out of bed that early, even if I’m lying awake with insomnia. So, you go girl! I’m sure all that writing will pay off.
  • Now she may not forgive me for revealing this, and may not be ready to share anything about it, but Tori Nelson over at The Ramblings has, indeed, started a book. She’s such a talented writer that I have no doubts that her story will someday be read far and wide. Meanwhile, I’m just happy to count her among “the bloggers I’ve met” as well as one of my first readers and a new friend. Good luck writing, Tori! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Now to the questions:

What is the title of your Work in Progress?

THE POWER OF WORDS  (although I’m still not sold on that title, it may change).

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I can’t remember exactly where the idea came from, as it has been around for many years. I had proposed it, under a different title (Judith of Lexiconia) for a YA book when I was taking a course in writing novels for young people. The recent attacks on women spurred me to revisit this story with modifications.

What genre does your book fall under?

I am calling it  a NA (New Adult) Contemporary Dystopian Fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea. Whoever it is needs to be smart and confident. Perhaps a non-traditional beauty, but her appearance is less important than her belief in herself.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

In the land of New North power lies in the hands of men who have denied access to reading and writing to all females, but Andra  betScrivener’s unexpected abilities over words could be the new power needed to bring down an oppressive regime.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Only time will tell. I will be submitting to agents and/or publishers. I would like to find a publishing home. I have another book that started gathering dust after several rejections and  when I became overwhelmed with how to do a quality job self-publishing. At the same time, I feel really proud of this current project, so maybe I’ll get over my own doubts and fears if I can’t find a more traditional route. Stay tuned.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

That’s difficult to answer. As I said, the initial seed of this idea started years ago. I started actually writing this work when I signed up for a course through the LongRidge Writer’s Group in March 2012. The writing of the first part was slow and sporadic, because of the way the course is set up which asked me to hold off on moving forward until I received feedback from my editor/instructor. However, once I got past the third chapter (which was the last official one he would read) I’ve been moving forward in leaps and bounds. I’m currently starting Chapter 13, have about 30,948 words written, and hope to finish the entire novel by the end of the month. (I’m thinking it will be about 70,000 words more or less).

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

This is another difficult one, as the genre of NA is just beginning. I had originally intended, with this course, to write a book for adults, but at my instructor/editor’s recommendation realized it would function better in YA, although that didn’t fit well either. So now I am here. To me, there is a connection between my book and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Some friends have suggested a connection with The Hunger Games.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My belief in the importance of educating women around the world, as well as my belief in the power of words over weapons. Recent issues in the USA have made this story even more timely and important.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This book questions the ability of government and religion to restrict rights. This is an issue that lives on in our current society, and will continue forward even after the results of Tuesday’s election come in. While I am writing a book that I hope will appeal to young adults, I believe it will challenge all types of readers to question how power can and should be used.  It also contains a little bit of “magic” and humor, as well as a cast of characters for everyone to love/hate. Where can I go wrong? (Eek!)

My WIP as of yesterday. The manuscript so far.

Writing, Writing, and More Writing

November 1st.

Intrepid dreamers all around the world begin their journeys into NaNoWriMo–the attempt to write a 50,000 page novel by November 30th.

I’m not one of them. I wrote last year about why I don’t think National Novel Writing Month is for me. I still don’t think it would work for me, however I am determined to finish my current novel project by the end of November. Over the past week I’ve written over 10,000 words in what will be a novel running somewhere between 60 and 80,000 words. I know, that’s a big difference, but I won’t know until I get to the end that I have reached the end. The story is creating itself. As of now I am over 30,000 words in. (The official count is on my personal computer. I’m writing during my office hours since nobody has come to see me).

While I work well under the pressure of a deadline, I don’t work well under the pressure of pressure. Words, or any creative act, seem to have a cycle with me. They flow like a tidal wave, then turn into a drought, only to return again with the speed of Sandy. As frustrating as those periods of drought can be, I know that I need the fallow time to replenish and let ideas rest for a while until they are ready to burst forth.

Once I break through and the deluge of words begins, it seems to feed on itself. (I know, I’m using a lot of mixed metaphors right now. I struggled with insomnia last night and so my words insist on following their own random path. This too is a symptom of the flood). Since the words started flowing on my novel I’ve written more blog posts than I have for a long time. I’ve also applied for jobs, answered e-mails, graded papers and made comments–words pouring out of my system.

By putting words out there, the universe is answering. Yesterday I was asked to contribute a feature article for the spring edition of a popular magazine about Theatre for Young Audiences. Although the deadline for me to accomplish this task is short (I think they asked me late) I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ve been asked to “talk about sex”; as in look at how romance and sex is discussed or portrayed in theatre for young audiences. Sexy topic, don’t you think?

[Any TYA folks who might read this, if you have something to say or know of someone who would be a good resource please let me know.]

In addition to that, we’ve finally gotten some funding to do a project promoting literacy to Latino elementary school students using drama, so I need to write up some planning material for that.

The whole point is that I’ve finally found my rhythm when it comes to writing and/or other creative projects. I can’t force it. I can’t create imaginary deadlines like NaNoWriMo. I have to follow my natural (although perhaps slightly psychotic) rhythms of manic production followed by passive reflection. If I fight it, I struggle.

At the moment, I’m not fighting. I’m simply writing, writing, and writing.

What works best for you?

Good luck to all you NaNoWriMo participants. I’ll see you on the other side!

Why Write? A Reflection on Writing vs. Talking

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with a few students who wanted the opportunity to revise their midterm take-home essay exams because they were not satisfied with their grades.  As I sat down with each one to go over their paper, I realized that, for the most part, they understood the material and could express their ideas clearly when talking to me about them. The problem came when they tried to put their words in writing. They simply cannot express themselves as clearly or logically in a written form.

After talking to these students, I returned home to my 9-year-old daughter who moans, groans and complains every time she has to write a paragraph–and she has a lot of paragraphs to write this year. “I don’t know what to say,” she says. “Can you help me?”

“What do you have to write about?”

Sometimes it is a response to a reading, or a prompt to use her imagination and tell a creative story. I will ask her questions, and she can (usually) answer them. If she can’t answer them, I tell her to reread the passage, and then she is able to answer well. In terms of creativity I’ve heard her make up stories inspired by something small, and sat through endless puppet shows created by her and her friends. She has also written numerous poems that you can find sprinkled throughout my blog posts. But, when it comes to assignments for school, she struggles. Her topic sentences are often vague. Her supporting details are sometimes weak. Her concluding sentences non-existent.

Like the college students, she struggles with conveying ideas in a written form.

As a teacher, I’ve often struggled with my own inability to understand why people have difficulty writing. I know, it sounds naive, because everyone has skills that differ from each other. But expressing myself in words has always come naturally to me. When talking to these students or my daughter, they express themselves in words. So why, I wonder, is it so difficult to put those words onto the page?

It’s possible, I suppose, that the difference lies in how people use their brains. The students that I have been working with are predominantly business majors, so I am sure their comfort with numbers, statistics, and graphs is much higher than my own.

But still, that doesn’t explain the gap between the ability to talk fluently about something and the ability to write eloquently and logically about the same topic.

Perhaps the difference lies in how we perceive writing. To me writing is part of my thought process. When I need to work through a problem or an issue, I write. When I am frustrated or angry about something, I write. At times I have even written letters or e-mails to explain an important issue to someone. I am more confident in my ability to express myself in writing than I am in my ability to talk.

Why? Well, as a talker I have a few habits that I have never successfully broken, especially if I am nervous:

  • I giggle
  • I talk with my hands
  • I pace.

In other words, I do all the things I shouldn’t do if I want to be a great speaker. Somehow these habits in addition to my short stature makes me seem less authoritative even when I am the expert in the room.

However, when I write nobody knows what I look like. Nobody hears the giggles or sees the talking hands. Nobody notices my quirks and my pacing.

When I write, I become the speaker I wish I could be.

For me writing is my language of comfort. For my students they communicate in other ways. In Introductory Theater courses I usually give an option for my projects which allows for any type of presentation; including written papers, performed scenes, artistic projects, etc. I try to leave it open-ended to allow for the variety of learners that come to my classes.  For this upper-division course, however, which is filled with seniors, I am requiring written research/analysis papers as their final project.

Am I doing them an injustice by demanding that they express themselves in writing?

These are students who will soon walk out into the world. Most of them will enter the world of business. Most of them will never have to write another long paper. They’ ll never have to do library research. They’ll never have to turn in a written document with a well-thought out argument.

But then again, maybe they will. If they want to move up in the business world, they need to be able to express themselves clearly. They need to be able to write  well-constructed letters; develop well-thought out and researched reports. They need to be able to express themselves in ways beyond the numbers and graphs.

In other words, they need to be able to write.

And I need to be able to speak the words I write.

We all have something to learn.

 

 

What I’ve Learned by Writing and Reading

 

“Writing and learning and thinking are the same process.” (William Zinsser)

Some days I struggle with words. But this isn’t a post about writer’s block.

Instead it’s a post about learning.

I’ve realized that I go through cycles; words flow then words fizzle but they will eventually flow again. Meanwhile, I fill the void with ideas and possibilities. I keep my mind open to images. I jot down thoughts. I read . . . I read . . . and I read some more.

Since I can’t seem to move forward in my own creative words, I’ve been focusing on the words of others. I’m participating in Sandra’s Writing Workshop on Facebook, despite my own self-doubts. I swallowed my fear, and submitted a chapter of my book for feedback. I haven’t gotten any yet. Does that mean it’s terrible or people simply don’t have the time?

I downloaded other people’s works with caution, fearful of what I would find. What if their work was so spectacular it made me feel ashamed of my own? What if I couldn’t think of anything to say, either positive or negative? What if participating in this group revealed the imposter in me? The person who has taught writing in the past (although granted mostly research writing) and has everyone fooled that I have any ability with words.

But, as I settled into reading, I had a realization. I’ve learned a lot through this writing  journey that I’m on.  Some of my learning has come from ideas, some is personal to my life, and some has made me a stronger writer and/or editor.  Here are a few things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

  • The Value of the Beginning: How many time have you read something that didn’t draw you in immediately? I admit to being a stubborn reader, and struggling through pages or even chapters of a book that has a fascinating premise in the hopes that eventually I will wade my way through the weak beginning and find something to keep me reading.  But I don’t do that as often anymore. Even though you can find gems this way, I would rather be pulled in by a strong and glorious beginning then labor through endless exposition in the hopes that something wonderful will come along. Of course, this means that I often struggle with my own beginnings, but I think the struggle is worthwhile in the end.
  • The Need to Read Out Loud: I’ve always made this suggestion to my students. “Read your work out loud, it will help you find the weaknesses.” Of course, my students often look at me like I’m insane. “If you don’t want to read it yourself, then have someone read it to you.” That doesn’t change the look. At times I’ve even forced them to read to each other in class.  I read my own work out loud all the time. You can sometimes catch me mumbling in public venues as I try to find the flow of a passage that is particularly challenging. This method helps me discover when I’m being too formal with my words, or too cryptic. It’s not perfect, and I still need to make changes, but it helps me find my own voice as well as the voices of my characters. Trust me, before I post this, I will have read it out loud several times.
  • The Power of the Right Word: I am always mesmerized by writers whose vocabulary challenges me, but I’ve come to realize that an extensive vocabulary isn’t always the best choice. Finding the right word can sometimes mean finding the simplest word, or perhaps it means using a word with a twist and finding a new metaphor. It’s not easy, but the way we use our words–the choices we make–defines our style and our voice as writers.  Words can soar and words can flop. Words can propel us forward or make us stop and think. I envy the people who always seem to find the right word, but I also value my own struggle as I search for the words that sing.
  • Questions Matter: In my classes, whether I’m teaching about theater or writing, I encourage my students to ask questions. I’m currently teaching a course called, Studies in Drama, where I’ve focused the course work on works that challenged society with either political or social change.  My students are required to submit a discussion question for each reading to an on-line discussion group and then respond to at least two questions. What does this have to do with writing? Well, I find that I enjoy questions. If someone asks me a question, then I can find the flaws in my own words. If someone challenges me with a question, then I can find my own answers. I’m not always right, but by exploring the questions, I find new ways into material. As I respond to other people’s materials, I try to respond with questions because questions lead to new thoughts and new answers. Do you enjoy questions or do they frustrate you because you say to yourself, “The answer is right there”? If someone has to ask the question, then perhaps the answer isn’t so clear.

What are some of the things that you have learned on your writing journey? Add to the comments below to make this list grow.

 

 

Eureka! I’m Writing in a New Genre

I’m writing a book.

Yes . . . yes . . . you’ve heard me say it before. But I’m really writing a book. As of today I’m in the beginnings of Chapter 7 and the word count breakdown of my chapters is as follows (for any of you interested in numbers):

  • Chapter 1:    3673
  • Chapter 2:    3093
  • Chapter 3:    2546
  • Chapter 4:    3714
  • Chapter 5:    2155
  • Chapter 6:    2343

For a GRAND TOTAL (as of now) of 17, 525 words. I think I’m aiming for about 40,000 words.

As some of you may know, I’ve had a lot of book ideas floating around my head for the past few years. I’ve made a lot of false starts and stops. In order to get this far, and give myself the kick in the butt that I needed, I signed up for a course through the Long Ridge Writer’s Group called “Shape, Write, and Sell Your Novel.”  Through the course, you are assigned an “editor/instructor” of sorts to help guide you through the process. I find that, having someone who I have to report to in some way helps me stay focused.

Of course, because you are supposed to wait for feedback, it means that my writing has kind of been random instead of regular. (Not that I listened to the rules completely. I wrote some sections anyway, but I still wanted feedback before I moved too far forward).  But, in general I think having someone respond has helped me shape the novel. I’m finally in the flow of writing and now the biggest challenge is finding time to focus on my other obligations in life.

Except that’s not really the biggest challenge. If you notice, the third part of the title of this course is  “Sell Your Novel.” That means that, now that I have turned in the first three chapters and am onto learning about revision, the next step will be learning about querying and sending to publishers and/or agents.

This is the stuff I find truly terrifying.

Part of the problem, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is that my novel doesn’t fit traditionally into any specific label or genre. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know how much I hate labeling in all aspects of life.  But, if I am going to try to get this published through a traditional route (that’s still a BIG IF) I need to play the game like a good girl and label my work.

I, of course, decided to focus on writing a good story and figure the rest out later.

However a miracle of blogging and social media has a brought a little clarity into my life. Earlier this week, after I posted my 100 Word Challenge, Sandra Tyler over at A Writer Weaves a Tale asked if I was interested in fiction and if I would be interested in joining a writer’s group on Facebook.  Sure, I thought. it can’t hurt, and it’s something I’ve been interested in for a while. I just have to stop being afraid to share.

So, I went over and joined the group. Sandra asked us to introduce ourselves, and I did that. Then yesterday, I read one of the other introductions, and discovered a moment of clarity. Shall I share? Here’s a cut and paste image of the Facebook conversation

Did you get that? NA! New Adult! It’s a new label for a genre that isn’t quite YA but isn’t quite A. Here’s a link to a post on Misha’s blog (My First Book) called “What’s the Next Big Thing in Genre Fiction” that explains NA in more detail.

So now I can say. I’m writing a book. It’s a New Adult Fantasy/Sci Fi book that questions the role of government and religion over women in a world where power comes from unexpected places.

Anyone interested in reading it?

What You Think You are Writing vs. What You are Actually Writing

I’m having a little bit of an identity crisis at the moment.

I know, I know . . . shocking right? Me, trying to figure out who or what I am?

Well, now I have a new symptom of this confusing identity issue. I no longer have a clue what I am writing.

As you may recall, I am currently in the middle of a course/book writing project. I was determined that I was writing an actual adult novel for a change. It was, for all intents and purposes, a fantasy novel, sort of. Kind of. Maybe. But, then again, as I wrote earlier this summer, I am having trouble labeling the genre of this work. Now, of course, many of you suggested that I just write and worry about genre later. And I agree with that. That was also the advice from my editor/instructor in his most recent letter responding to chapter one. (which he liked, by the way).

But he also wrote:

“If I were writing this story (I understand I’m not), I might change that age bit about young women of 21 to young women of 18, and give some thought to a YA novel. As you know, a hot writing niche right now. I just finished the first story in the Hunger Games trilogy, which confirmed what we both know–this isn’t Nancy Drew any more.”

So much for my writing an adult novel. I mean, I know I don’t have to change it, but when he’s right, he’s right!  So, I am now writing a YA novel, but I still have no idea what I am actually writing. Suddenly a romance element has entered the picture, an element that I DO NOT WANT, but it’s creeping in and making me uncomfortable! I am fighting against it, which makes each word a struggle to write.

I guess the book is writing itself and I am just the conduit. Or I simply have lost control of words, my ideas, and my story.

The biggest problem is that every time I try to write now, the doubts creep in and garbage pours out. I know, I know, I just need to let the characters tell the story and figure it all out later.

I just wish I could get out of my own way, and stop fighting myself and my words.

Do you ever find a conflict between what you think you are writing and what you are actually writing? How do your reconcile the two? How do you break through?

From Nothing to Chaos

Yesterday I broke my long silence with silliness, and today I face the complete opposite problem–a mind so full of ideas that I have too much to say. So you get the honor (or the torturous task) of following the jumble in my mind as I try to get control over the chaos.

Fiction Fever

My post yesterday enabled me to focus a little. I spent the rest of the morning at one of my local coffee shop offices pounding out a rough draft of chapter one of one of my writing projects. You will be happy to know (or completely disinterested) that I remembered to pee when a kind woman shared the wall outlet near me so I felt comfortable asking her to watch my stuff. 😉

As some of you may recall, I am currently enrolled in a course to help me write this book, because I felt that having deadlines and an “editor” to offer guidance would motivate me more. In some ways it works, but in some ways it doesn’t as the gaps between sending my assignments and receiving feedback leave me hanging in the “should I move forward or wait” mode of writing. These gaps are made a little longer by the fact that the person I am working with does not accept assignments via e-mail. I’ve dealt with it by writing random scenes or simply brainstorming more about the story, and reading a lot of the course material. When I received feedback two days ago about my plot summary, I was excited to dive in. I was encouraged by the feedback, where he raised some interesting questions that I hadn’t thought of yet; the answers of which will only strengthen the novel (I hope).

So, loaded down with my course manual and computer, I headed out, intending to read and write. Of course, I then left my course manual in the car and had already set up the computer and settled down with my drink, so I decided to write first, read later. The end result of that process was interesting, in that I got a “shitty” first draft down, then read about what makes a strong first chapter, and had lightbulbs go off in my head. “Oh, you better fix that! You made that mistake. Go back and make it better.”

These thoughts wandered through my brain last night, to the extent that I grabbed a printout of my draft and started scratching down notes as I waited for Sarah to get ready for school. I think I’m on the way to something decent, or at least I am tricking myself into believing it.

Kitchen Disasters

I confess, I do not like to cook. It’s not that I can’t, I actually make some decent dishes, but I don’t like to cook especially when it is just for two or three people. Nathan likes to cook, so for the most part he does the cooking and I keep the house in some sort of organized state.

Of course, that posed a challenge when he left Sarah and I for a month on our own as he went off to his summer job adventures and Sarah still had school. Suddenly I am the one who has to figure out dinner.

We’ve done okay. I’ve cooked a few meals. We’ve had a few breakfasts for dinners (love that). We’ve gone out a couple of times. But, I have discovered two scary facts about me and the kitchen:

  1. My Rice Cooker Hates Me! I love rice cookers. I have used them since I lived in Japan, where I would cook up a batch of rice that would last me for days. I mixed it with protein (tuna or some other fish) and called it many a meal. So, I thought, I can make rice and that will be good. But no! For whatever reason this rice cooker refuses to behave like rice cookers should. I know the rice to water ratio. I know how to cook rice in a cooker. So why do I keep ending up with a crunchy layer of overcooked rice on the bottom with good rice on top? Is this kitchen karma?
  2. I Need an Air Popper! On my second weekend of being completely alone I decided I would watch something I enjoyed and treat myself to some popcorn. What I didn’t realize is that I don’t know how to pop popcorn on the stove. One smoke alarm and destroyed pot later, I recognize that I either need my old air popper or microwave popcorn. I also have to go buy a new pot.

My popcorn did not look like this.

NPR Thoughts and Career Dreams

I’ve also been doing a lot of serious thinking and self-reflection over the past few weeks, which I believe has caused both the silence and the chaos. I am participating in a webinar sponsored by my college alumnae association on changing careers, which has made me reflect a lot on where my life is heading. Last week we were “assigned” an assessment worksheet to help us figure out what our ideal work environment/dream job might be. The assessment included some interesting questions, and I surprised myself with some of the answers. One of the ones that intrigued me was this:

As I was driving in horrible traffic to get to an unpleasant (lady parts) follow-up doctor’s appointment, I heard some fascinating interviews on NPR:

  • discussions about recent conflicts which are both depressing and fascinating
  • a discussion about a book called The End of War, which I now need to read. The interview made me think about whether or not I believed it was possible to end conflict, and what it would take.
  • an interview with a Minister as she reflected on Obama’s presidency and racial issues in the USA.
  • a report on Aung San Suu Kyi, who fascinates me as a woman who has fought oppression and proven the power of peaceful resistance

As I listened to each story, I thought I want to know more about that. I want to sit and talk intelligently with interesting people. I want to write about the stories of this world. I want to work for NPR!

English: Aung San Suu Kyi meets with crowd aft...

English: Aung San Suu Kyi meets with crowd after house arrest lift on 14 November 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Mind in Chaos

There you have it, a sampling of the chaos going on in my mind these days. I’m not sure which is better, silence or noise.

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