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Survival of The Writer: And What National Novel Writing Month Teaches Us

I’m going to keep it brief and give you a little excerpt at the end of this blog to tie up another great year of NANOWRIMO. I hope that your month was successful and that it taught you something about your ability to persevere, in the face of ominous word counts, writer’s block doldrums, and persnickety characters that don’t do as they’re told.

I for one am proud of you. The winner of the goodie bag will be chosen this week and I’ll announce the name on the blog this week. Think of it as an early Christmas. I’m still curious to know how it went for all of you and if you have any pitfalls or successes you’d like to share, please send them my way. If this was your first or your 25th, I know that you got something out of the process.

If anything, it teaches us how to manage our time better, how to flow with the writing even when its not going how we think it should, and how to keep going even when its hard. I hope the very best for your project. My final piece of advice is this:

Being the first day of December, I ask that you take that hard-earned manuscript you slaved over for a month, save it (Twice) and put it away. For a whole month. Don’t look at it, don’t tweak it. Don’t edit it. (the only exception is that if you’re really close to finishing something or the whole thing, keep extending your daily word count goal until you’re at a good stopping place). Don’t open it again until January 1st at the earliest. Give your brain and your thoughts time to settle and reflect, so you can come at it with fresh eyes and a begin the process of turning that beautiful raw material into a wondrous book.

Here’s a little (unedited) piece of my third novel in my new series. I was particularly excited to work on this one as it brings us back to a favorite family from the coast of Maine. Enjoy! (and Congratulations)

“Faith Harrison set up her camp with little effort and a practiced efficiency that showed she’d done it several times before. Setting up the tent and small awning from it in the protected berm of a small hill, she set out a small ring of rocks. She didn’t even think she could get a fire started. Everything was so damn wet here. She put what little fuel she had beneath the awning in hopes it would keep some of it dry for a fire tonight. A shiver ran through her body as a drip of rain fell from her piled up curls and down her neck, tracing between her shoulder blades, two fine and pale angel’s wings. Her brother Jackson called her scrawny, her mother called her scrappy. Her dad said she was lithe and strong, like her mother, but Faith never felt nearly as strong as her mother Destiny. She was bookish and quiet. The kind of girl that would disappear into the corner of a library or pub. If it weren’t for the striking red hair.

Iagan hated that he couldn’t reach out and see her like he could with his magic. He was decidedly a plain, human male with nothing special about him. Except his unfailing curiosity and strange stirrings of desire for the young woman who was trespassing on his land. Owen had laughed at him. Danika had gently slapped his cheek, said it was good for him to share his space. And that she liked the girl. There was something earthy and grounded about her. And she wasn’t afraid of a little dirt. Iagan wanted her gone as soon as possible. He grumbled as he searched for the binoculars, he’d purchased in a vain attempt to become a bird watcher fifty years ago. No birds lived here, nothing lived here. Except magical things. He climbed to the top most tower and peered out to the south ruins. She’d set up her small orange tent beneath a hillside for protection and had created a fire ring. She’d not get anything started in the rain. She’d be cold and miserable by the end of the week. Hadn’t she’d said she was a graduate student? The poorest, scruffiest excuses for humans of all. He watched her move, a small speck on the green hill, setting up her camp and moving with a grace that was calming.

What would that body look like moving through his house, quiet, calm, long limbed and warm. He felt his hand in hers, the warm brown eyes…the upturned nose and freckles. Faith Harrison. He wanted her. But he wanted her gone even more. He wasn’t in the business of ruining young women anymore, and she was too clever and disinterested to fall for his charms anyway. He’d simply have to suffer the summer until her research was done and then he’d be rid of her.”

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 4

Hey! You’re in the homestretch, and whether that is a cause for rejoicing or a cause for panic, it’s still your last week. Below are some thoughts. Remember to send me your email along with comments and stories about how its gone so far, what you’ve learned, what helped, what didn’t, what you’d do differently, or if you’d ever do it again. I’ll put your email into a drawing for a Writer Care Package, stuffed full of lots of useful goodies that every writer needs.

Here’s your final week pep talk.


Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following me through the month of November, this marks the final installment of surviving NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve been flowing with a life-stages theme, and had intended to title this week “Retirement” but the thing with NANO is that only some of us will spend the last week resting and reaping the rewards of a month packed with hours of dedication to your project. A lot of us will find this final week to be the last, desperate attempt to finish.

So this brief post is for those who are struggling through the last four to five days to make up those words, or at least push to do what they can.

I hope, more than anything, and even above the lofty goal of 50,000 words, that you are still trying. That you haven’t given up. That you have built a habit of writing so that you don’t feel complete in your day unless you’ve spent at least some time on your work.

Because, that’s the whole point. This month is more about teaching us to prioritize our lives to include our writing first (or at least at the top of the to-do list) and to know that we CAN accomplish great things when we give it the time and love it needs. It’s more about building the habit of writing than it is about reaching the specific goal.

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle won’t be worth the outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. The end result is not all we are working for. Its the journey in getting there.

When we challenge ourselves, the bigger reward lies in the struggle. New ventures, hard and thankless work, and lofty goals teach us how to plan, how to plot, how to push ahead when we simply don’t feel like it or when others around us question or scoff at the ideas before us. Challenges shine a light on how amazing and resilient we are so that, no matter the outcome, we learn what we are capable of. And once we know what we are capable of, the bonds of doubt weaken and we begin to believe that if we can write a novel in a month, we can edit it, publish it, write another, and another, and another. And if we can write a book we can take a class, or teach a class. We can climb a mountain, we can travel across the world. We can do anything we set our minds to.

We can.

You can.

You’ve only got a few days left in this month and I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN do anything you’ve set out to do. You are amazing. You are imperfectly perfect and there’s no one in the world who can finish this month the way you will.

Deep breath, writer. Don’t let the home stretch scare you. Let the struggle instead be your gift and one which you are grateful to work through. You can. You will.

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 3

Hey! It’s week 3 and if you haven’t sent me a comment or update on how your process is going, please do! I have a drawing going on for a Writer Care Package, with all sorts of fun goodies for you to enjoy as a treat for surviving this month. And speaking of surviving, let’s take a look at the dreaded week 3.


Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum, (say that one a few times fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

With only days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s. All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 2

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

And now, this:

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing, but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

NANOWRIMO: WEEK 1

Something new for this year, if you comment, share and/or email me with your frustrations, experiences, or adventures during this year’s NANOWRIMO, and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Let’s talk about Week 1

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember for everyone who comments on this blog during the month of November, you’ll be enterd to win a goodie basket of Writer Stuff. (its capitalized because it’s official)

Good skill, Writer.

National Novel Writing Prep

It is that magical time of year again. That time where my blog posts get shorter, the house falls into disarray, and herd of cats goes unfed (not true, if it’s one thing that can take me away from my writing, its the screaming protest of three obviously starving felines).

National Novel Writing Month is upon us. In four days time, I hope you’ll be joining me on a journey of creativity, self discovery, and frustrating obstacles to overcome. Much like a marathon, NANOWRIMO is not just a test of the word count, but a test of your mental fortitude. As in years past, I will be offering a short blog each week to help inspire you through the process.

But this week, I want to help you get ready.

First, commit to the process. It’s daunting. It’s scary. It’s a mountain of words to conquer and so many people won’t even type the first ten. But it is also absolutely doable. It is within your reach, and you can accomplish it with a little hard work and determination.

Once you’ve decided to join me on the journey, go to this website: www.nanowrimo.org and register. The website has come a long way in recent years and provides opportunities to connect to local groups, online communities, offers articles and tips, fun little badges to click on as a way to motivate you, places to download your own inspiration (photos, pinterest boards, and playlists), and encouragement for every stage. Answer some of the questions, create a profile, and just set it up as detailed or as sparsely as you want.

Next, and I would recommend this, whether you’ve been plotting and daydreaming about this novel for years or the idea just hit you yesterday morning on the toilet…make yourself a rough outline. If you’re not sure how-search outline or plotting on my blog website and it will take you to some great articles on how to get started. I recommend at least breaking your novel into three arcs and giving a general timeline of what happens within each. This will give you direction if and when you start to falter.

Next, look at your schedule and decide when your most optimal times for writing are, and put it on your outlook or calendar as a ‘meeting’ or ‘appointment’. Don’t let it get taken over. Reserve the time so you and your family/work partners know you will be busy.

Make sure you take creative breaks (reading, watching a show, painting, whatever) and physical breaks (walks, runs, karate practice, naps etc) to keep your brain fresh and engaged and your body from being too stiff or jittery.

Stock up on snacks, coffee/tea, and water. Stay hydrated and healthy, and if all you have time wise for writing is night, make sure that you’re still giving yourself plenty of time to sleep. All in all, it’s only 1667 words a day you need to write. But some days it will feel more like 1,600,000, so do what you can to control the outside forces and story blocks that might make the process harder.

That’s your homework for the next four days. Get prepped. Get ready. Get set to go. You’ve got this.

Kindle and Paranormal Romance Giveaway

Just a quick little blog to tell you about this really cool giveaway. You can enter to win a Kindle Fire 7 and a bunch of amazing paranormal romance novels (mine included!) I think there might even be some spicier ones in there, (menage…bikers…bears? oh my?) Check out the link and enter to win!

https://cravebooks.com/giveaway/group/october-2022-paranormal-romance-list-building-giveaway

Poetry 10-20-22

Playing to hope and darkness, today, I’ll be featuring poems on both.

The Difference

She ask me
what the difference was
between depression and sadness
how can you be sure 
you aren't just sad?

I looked at her, 
and out the window again
and spoke the measured truth 
forming sounds 
that escaped dry lips, 
torn by nervous teeth
falling into trickles of slow explanation

sadness was a cut finger

depression was a severed hand

cuts heal 
lost limbs are lost

sadness is a cloudy morning
that passes into a sunny afternoon

depression is a cloud living in your head
and it doesn’t burn away, no matter
how hot the sun shines outside

sadness is losing a lover

depression is losing yourself

sadness is caring enough to cry
and scream and wail

depression is giving up
not seeing the point of theatrical
chest banging
because it doesn’t really
matter
anyway

sadness is a dead bird 
on the edge of the sidewalk
struck down from its nest

depression is to have never heard 
the bird sing, or to know
that it existed at all
 
sadness is a bucket in a well, 
that can be lifted and emptied 

depression is the dank water 
in the bottom
that never dries up.

Sadness has an ebb and flow
a beginning. 
An end.

Depression is being stuck beneath the waves
a thousand miles from shore
drowning in the cold darkness.


AND the Light
The Bones are Good

It’s in the small things
micro moments
hair breadth lines

the brush of her fingers
over the back of my hand
the freckles 
each one
mapping out her constellation
a history of goddesses 
painted across her nose
coursing through her blood

It’s the crinkle of eyes
green grass
dotted with bronze
and the fire behind them
the lighted soul
one stardust mote
in a universe infinite

it is how
they save me
every day
give me reason
to fight
for better
to be 
better

These small things
are the weight-bearing pillars
of my world.

Ode To The Trail

In the spirit of this monumental week (bookending the days with a mountain writing retreat and probably the death of me by trail marathon on Saturday) I give you a short and sweet look at what trail running will do for a soul and what we can learn from a steady state of being present. Enjoy.

Nothing about trail running is easy.  I mean, sure for some skinny running-all-his-life-young-mountain-goat type it’s probably a walk in the park.   But for me, aging-used-to-flat streets-and-shady-neighborhoods, its one of the most challenging things I’ve done.  I like running.  I like hiking.  I hate combining the two.  Not just because it is difficult but it takes the worst parts of both and combines them. 

Running down a sidewalk in the cool and quiet morning is a practice in meditation for me.  My mind can wander; it can go over plot lines or character traits, dialogues and settings.  It can breeze over life’s complicated spider webs of responsibilities and desires.  Hiking up a rocky and single-tract trail, in the middle of the beautiful and chaotic dance of nature, stopping to smell the sun soaked dirt and hear the clicking of bugs as they dodge past your ear is good for the primal soul within.

But when you combine the two, your mind cannot wander.  It must remain focused, because the speed of your journey is encumbered and dangerous, riddled with rocks and snakes and jagged-reaching branches.  You cannot look around beyond the future path of your feet because you will surely falter. Your feet are twisted and tripped and if you aren’t living solely in that specific moment of forward motion, you could end up rolling down a yucca spiked hill and planting face-first in the delicate sharp tear-drops of cactus.

Trail running is hard, not just because of the altitude, or the climbing, or the sheer terror of descending down rocky terrain at a speed that threatens my control.  It’s hard because it forces me to live in a specific moment.  I can only look ahead briefly, I cannot plan the next mile, only the next footfall.  It is hard.  But it’s also a brilliant lesson in staying focused in the moment you are in. 

Very often I get ahead of myself, even more so, I falter back into the past.  It’s comforting to go back in my mind to the places I’ve been and the people I knew.  Its exciting to imagine where I will go in the future, and easy to build it into much bigger dream than attainable.  But to live in the now, with what I have to work with and what lies directly on my path makes me get out of my head and truly live.  And that, my friends, is hard.

Edit Somber: Part II

Today, I’m rerunning a blog from a couple of years ago. It’s interesting that I’m yet again in the editing process…and oddly enough, it’s the same book. Only it’s not the same book. This book is much better. It has grown from a gangly little ugly duckling, into a less gangly, slightly less ugly, near-adult swan. Ok, that makes it seem like it hasn’t improved, which doesn’t say much for my first foray into editing it. But it has. This round of edits comes from an incredibly talented and experienced editor from the publisher the book was picked up by. So, it has progressed, and it goes to show, that every book can always be better.

But, after a few hours of starting the first round of collaborations, I realized that old habits concerning editing for writers, can be hard to break. While I know my bugaboos, and I’m infinitely better at accepting constructive advice and putting aside my writerly pride, than I once was, it can still feel daunting when faced with all of those track changes remarks. I’m here to remind you, in this process to don’t give in when it gets daunting. Don’t give in to pride, when what you’re being told makes sense. So, without further ado, here’s a little piece on editing.

EDIT SOMBER

Nope, that’s not a typo. You’ve all heard the adage (or if you’re a writer worth their Peter DeVries salt you have…)

“Write drunk, Edit sober.”

I’m not going to recommend you write drunk. You can… It’s totally possible, and more often than not, highly amusing the morning after. Unlike the headache you’ll be nursing.

DeVries’ meaning was simpler. Write with abandon, in love, fervent and without inhibition. Lower your boundaries and kiss the words you wouldn’t normally, dance with phrases you’d been afraid to hold in your arms. Grab the lampshade of crazy plot twist and wear that son-of-a-bitch as a hat while you twirl through the story.

But in the morning…edit like you’re highly regretful and aiming to pinpoint every mistake you’d made the night before so as to never repeat the debauchery again. Be remorseful. Be judgemental, and like the Spanish Inquisition, show no mercy.

I’m in, let’s say the twelfth round of editing on my WIP. A round that was inspired by a recent submission editor’s advice. This time I’m proceeding with a more somber attitude, one that knows I wrote it, in part, like a drunken idiot and now have dropped my ego enough to be receptive to the advice.

Never before have I been so close to getting a traditional publishing contract for one of my books. Part of this is due to a more polished product (it’s not my first rodeo…or book kids), a more general genre and subject (why do people shy away from paranormal romances and hot ghost sex?), and, I like to think, a cute, relatable plot that’s just enough dark to be interesting.

So, I’m buckling down and doing what I was told to help get this baby off the ground. I’m about thirty pages in and catching some of the ‘problems’ that were brought to my attention. But as I work, I have a concern:

How much of myself and my voice am I taking out of this thing to appeal to the personal likes/dislikes of one editor.

So we come back to somber. Serious. Earnest. Grave. Unsmiling.

Sometimes there are hoops we have to jump through to get to where we want to go. Sometimes we have to shelve our pride and ego and be willing to see past what we love about our work to what could be better.

How do we make sure it’s not just some dime-store novella like the fifty other ones on the shelf? How do I make sure, with all the dead darlings lying beside my computer, that its still my story?

I don’t know those answers exactly, but I’ll tell you what I do know.

I know my characters and the way they react to situations and each other. And where my grammatical prowess may be lacking, I will always stay loyal to them first. When the critique is centered on prepositions or wordy description, I can be earnest in cutting it clean. And not only will my story be stronger, it will be easier to read…hopefully to the point where hands don’t want to let go of it until they finish “just one more chapter”.

So my advice for this week is this:

Take good advice from people in the industry who know when it comes to the technical mishaps of your work. Take the advice to tighten your writing from people who have to spend hours of their lives sifting through the slushiest of slush piles.

But always keep true to the drunken passion of your story that made your heart dance and giggle while it awkwardly pulled that plot line in for a kiss. Keep your story’s heart, but don’t be afraid to pluck it’s wayward eyebrows and wipe its nose.

Good luck, in whatever step you are of your process. Editing, writing, or contemplation of either.

Happy writing, kids!

IMG_7942

Writing Frequently Asked Questions

Given how heavy last week’s blog was, I thought I might lighten it up a bit. In the course of my career, as soon as people know I’m a writer, I’ve gotten a lot of questions, ranging from the concerned “What did your parents do to you?” to the outright rude, “Oh, so what restaurant do you bus tables at?” But some are genuine and interested.

I’ve picked out a few questions not just to give you my personal answers but as a way to think about your own journey as a writer and why having the answers to some of them is important, whether you get asked or not.

Writers Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you come up with your ideas?

I dunno man. It’s part magic and part just paying attention. Sometimes it’s a character from my childhood that I want to reformulate and expand upon. Sometimes I’m watching a nature show on octopods and flip the station to an expo on genetic research. I will say this for the good writers I know. Ideas are everywhere, and it’s all about paying attention to why each story, article, factoid, or fungi is interesting and how they could be moreso. Even though tropes and genres rarely change, the situations, characters, and actions are an endless pool of inspiration.

I’ve written about space captains and cowboys, Krampus’ nephew and Bacchus as a modern-day AA member. I’ve written about a nurse with OCD and a child who was the reincarnation of Peter Pan… Ideas are everywhere. Go on line, find prompts. Read the newspaper. Watch people. Read. Think about what makes a good story—a character you care about, an impossible situation, high stakes, dynamic growth. And give your brain down time to think and daydream (walking the dog, in the shower, at your kid’s soccer game—don’t look at me like that it’s okay to zone out for those once in a while too). Play with the What-If and don’t self limit.

Also—buy a small notebook and a pen (or you could use your phone, ugh) and write down things you notice, articles that were interesting, conversations you overhear, even the strangest ideas from out of nowhere. You never know…

How many hours do you write a day?

Pshhh… Listen, if all I needed to do in a day is write, I’d probably say at least 4 to 5 hours or more. But I don’t know any of us who don’t have some other job, a family, or otherwise adultish tasks to complete. So, I’m going to be completely honest and watch die-hard writing theorists gasp in shock.

Somedays I don’t write at all.

*gasp! How does she even call herself a writer!?*

Somedays I’m so plagued with class planning and familial obligations and oh-my-god-whats-growing-in-the-bathroom-sink, and teaching, and making dental appointments that I don’t get to sit down at my computer until late in the evening when my brain is effectively mush.

But it’s not always about the quantity.

Because sometimes on those nights, in the span of twenty minutes before bed, I can bang out three or four solid pages. Sometimes I only stare bleary eyed at what I wrote earlier in the week. The point is, it isn’t about the hours and hours of singularly devoted time you put in. It’s about concentrating and working with focus for every minute you do get and making it impactful over time.

So—on average in a week, I maybe write 1-2 hours a day. If you factor in editing and rewrites and marketing and advertising my stuff, that probably gets bumped up to about 3. It’s not as much as some…but for now, it’s what I have to work with and I capitalize on all the moments I can.

What are you working on now?

I’m not like other writers. I’m a goddamn, flighty scatterbrain. So my answer is…complicated *wheels out an old chalkboard packed full of a complex theory, diagrams, and stick figures*.

At any given moment I’ve got multiple projects and I’ll tell you why.

Because I get bored. And sometimes I’m tired. (hahahahaha—ah…that’s funny because I’m ALWAYS tired)

I’m not saying I can’t sit down, focus, and write a novel, end to end in about a month. I can. I have. I usually reserve all of November to do that. Or on projects with co-authors as there are expectations and deadlines to meet.

For me, having multiple projects that I enjoy helps to keep me engaged and inspired and lets me cater my writing to the state of my life that day.

Maybe I only have twenty minutes. So I write a poem, or submit a poem. Or both

Maybe I have an hour, but I’m not feeling very fictional—I work on my weekly blog or catch up on emails from other writing projects. Or get a solid chunk of editing done.

Maybe I have an uninterrupted afternoon, I’ve been daydreaming about my characters and what I can do to torture them…I’ll bust out a few chapters on my novel.

Being a writer is a career best done when diversified.

One, we learn how to write better when we give ourselves more variety.

Two, we will burn out less often when we can take breaks from something that’s got us stuck—AND, AND AND…sometimes being able to put down ‘stuck’ projects and work on something else will lead to that magical AHA moment of unstuckness, because your brain has stepped back and can look at it without so much intensity.

Three, in terms of getting paid? You might love your novel, but its your magazine articles that are paying for your PB and J’s while you wait for the next publisher to realize how amazing you are (and you are amazing)…so have something more lucrative if you want.

Four, I hate to say it, but marketing, editing, and submitting count as writing. It’s the new and best chance way to really make it as a writer these days.

So—what am I working on?

3 novels: one in first edits with a cowriter, one is the first in my new urban fantasy/romance series—heavy rewrites but mostly formulated, one is my Kindle Vella romance that I’m writing, frighteningly, chapter by chapter (I’ll plan that out better next time)

A weekly Blog post

3-5 Poems a week

The new Beautiful Stuff anthology

1-2 Submissions a week (leading to new poetry and flash fiction pieces)

Edits for some accepted short stories

Soon: Edits for my first novel coming out with 5 Prince Publishing

You make any money at that?

No.

Not at all.

After editing, marketing, and website fees are factored in, I’m actually, constantly, in a hole. In fact, I love writing so much, I started working a part time job just to afford it.

But this is important to know about yourself as a writer. Why do you write? For the money? Because there are ways to do that—freelance, magazine articles, content writing, textbook editing. But you should also know that getting published right away, with a good book deal and royalties is not common. It isn’t impossible but you’re going to have to work for it.

My suggestion is to write because you love it. Because if you do that, and you throw it out into the world to see if it lands with someone, and it doesn’t get picked up, then at least you loved what you did, enjoyed what you made, and created something that was meaningful. And that’s not nothing.

If you don’t enjoy it and try to meet a trend, or publish some MFA tome that you hated every minute of, I honestly believe that the chances of it ‘landing’ and being picked up, are less.

Stories with heart and passion behind them, are just better stories.

Do you get writer’s block?

I go back and forth about those two little words. Yes, I believe that writers can get blocked. but I prefer to call it “Life Blocked”.

Writing doesn’t get blocked. We block ourselves. We get in our own way. Life gets in our way. The other worries, concerns, judgments, conflicts, and comparisons surrounding us get in our way. The writing is always there, just waiting to come out. It’s not beyond our reach. Until we put up walls of insecurities and excuses in our own path.

Somedays the inspiration isn’t there. Write anyway (see my answer from above about switching up projects, doing something that is still writing but not what’s got you puzzled). Somedays you are burnt out. Take a day off. Watch stupid movies. Take a nap. Keep your hands off the computer until you’re gnashing to get back to putting words down. Writers forget that inspiration is always there, you just sometimes have to clear out the path before it will flow. That might mean writing that scene you’ve been dreading until it turns into one of your favorites. Or sitting in the chair, writing the worst shit you’ve ever written nonstop for thirty minutes via a timer until you realize that it’s not all bad and that you were just afraid admitting that we all write shitty stuff sometimes.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. Believe in normal human emotion and limitation, give yourself grace but don’t give yourself excuses.

Where can I find your work?

Always know this answer and, if possible, have a card with your info on it. You can find my work on Amazon, libraries, in some journals and newspapers as well as on my website. www.sarahreichertauthor.com (and yes, get a website)

How do you finish a book, I just can’t!

How do people climb Mt. Everest? How do people raise children? How do people retire comfortably after 45 years of work?

One step at a time. Always forward. Never giving up. Pause if you need, catch your breath, remember why you’re putting in the work, eyes on that distant horizon and keep moving. You will get stuck. You will want to quit. There will be stories you do have to quit or rewrite completely. Just don’t stop writing. One page a day. One sentence. Six chapters. It doesn’t matter. People who don’t finish their books have let the world win. They let their doubt win. They let the aspect of editing and cutting out what wasn’t working win. They let the fear of finishing a book and what that might mean for expectations on them win.

Don’t let fear or hard work stop you. Just write. Because you love it. Because you love the character. Because you love the journey. Because you love being lost in that world. When it gets hard, shift course, skip over the dark and come back after you’ve written through some light. There are a million ways to quit. But there are at least as many to persevere. Find what makes you keep going and do that.

Poetry 9-22-22

Today’s poem was written on the night that Roe vs. Wade was cancelled out by a strange and uneven balance in our country. After a certain Senator’s insistence that it should be made Federal Law…I thought it was time to bring it out.

I know the opinion differs but I think that we can all agree that the moment a human being’s own body is controlled by the government (made mostly of white and extremely privileged men) it is a bad turn of events. Any study of history tells us that when women are subjugated, the downfall of the society as a whole is not far behind.

So here’s a poem. If you’re offended, good. I hope you fucking are. Because if you’re offended a small part of you must recognize that it’s not your place, nor the governing body to tell any human that any one part of their biology is more important than their own life/dreams/heart/health/future. Any person with half a brain knows that being able to plan for and want a child means a happier, healthier and more productive society.

So read on. Or don’t. Write me a demeaning, threatening letter to prove that you really don’t actually care for human life and I’ll share it on the blog along with your email address. Share this with anyone who should know that they won’t stand alone as long as we all stand together.

And fuck Lindsey Graham…

I Fight

So this is for you

piggy tails and pink shirts

mohawks and punk rock and

discoverers of self

I fight for you

regardless of the future you envision

I fight for your right to choose it

To every mother,

daughter,

born daughter is a son

sister

aunt

grandmother

friend

I fight for your dreams

for the ideas and schemes

still settling in your soul

bigger than birthing babies

bigger than your womb

I fight for your life

when these things

turn toxic and would destroy you

if kept inside

I fight for your right to be human

to matter, beyond

your ability to propagate the species

You are not a broodmare

Not a human baby mill

You are greater than your single-cells

You are infinite and divine

and I fight for you

I will never stop fighting for you

for us

after eons of being

the ones denounced

and abused

the ones controlled

out of fear of our powerful force

to create

our strength in the long and

grinding trials of pain

out of the truth that we are greater

and more powerful

than they have ever aspired

I fight for our divinity

which caused them to put our faces

to the ground and

write religious texts

denouncing our evil natures

to keep us beneath,

out of need to control

the uncontrollable beauty

of life and power residing

not just in our bodies

but in our souls

For we were Lilith before we were eve

and we are divine

and our wombs are their birth places

and we are the power that seduces

and survives

and so we are not powerless

and I will fight for you

I will fight for me

I will fight

though I am tired

and I am worn thin and

I am hurt

and I am tired of fighting this fight

over and over

and over

souls and lives

the same battle since long ago

Still,

I will rise, again, and again,

to fight for every person,

born with a uterus,

that should be treated first

as a human

and never

as a maker of more insignificant men

hell bent on the destruction

of all that is more

than they can ever be.

Opportunities, Potential, and Failure

I’m winging today’s post. It’s due tomorrow and I really didn’t have a direction to head (did I mention I lost my blog ‘plan’ for the year–there will be a lot of winging it in the next couple of months). So today, I wanted to talk about opportunity, our own potential, and reframing failure.

What do all of those things have to do with writing? So very much.

Whether you write for the love and fun of it, for yourself, for a small base of fans, for your dog, or for millions of avid readers, we are all engaged in a delicate balance of these three elements. Let’s take a look at them from a writerly perspective.

Opportunities

As a writer, or artist of any sort, when you decide to commit to your craft for whatever end result, you should look at ways to not just get those words in, but to improve them, challenge your writing’s boundaries, and explore different dimensions. Examples of creating and pursuing opportunities include:

  1. Submitting your work to journals, newsletters, publishers, or any other outside source for consideration.
  2. Signing up for classes, workshops, critique groups, retreats and conferences
  3. Writing outside of your genre or comfort zone as an exploration (you can do this concurrently with the two suggestions above)
  4. Sign up to give talks, open mic nights, teach a class (adult, young adult, children) about what you do know that would be helpful for other writers/artists.

The key to opportunity is to not limit yourself by your own doubt. You may see a dozen different submission calls, or invitations to teach or whatever, but if you’re constantly thinking your work won’t be good enough, your experience not deep enough, then you won’t ever put yourself out there. And the fact is, opportunities are rarely about stumbling into the ‘right place/right time’, they are usually more about putting yourself in the right place and the right time (creating and fostering the glints of opportunity you do find). So don’t limit your potential with self doubt. You never know what you’re capable of until you step up and try. That leads us to:

Potential

I’ll tell you the only real thing I know about human potential. It’s limitless.

Often times we are held back by our beliefs, our history, our trauma and our fears. Any thing ever in our life that told us we were not good enough, undeserving, or powerless, seeps in and builds little walls inside our brain. And we often think that once we reach those walls, that we are at the end of our capabilities. Reframing how you think about your potential is the key to opening up new roads. How do you reframe? Well, I guess first you have to set your sights on something without killing it.

How often do we tell ourselves, “I can’t do that”, “That’s impossible”, “That won’t work” even before we let ourselves think through the logistics? Probably a lot. Now–I’m not saying that EVERYTHING is possible. We can’t time travel (yet) and change mistakes from our past (why would you want to?). We can’t/shouldn’t aim for goals that hurt or destroy others. I’m saying in the field of your writing, you have no idea what you’re capable of.

So find out what drives you, what you want, what you dream of and write it all down (you’re a writer after all). Follow it up with small and manageable goals that move you forward, a little each day. This is the way we get over those walls. By building a ladder, one rung at a time, by destroying the wall, one brick at a time. Stay constant, stay consistent. And remember that self-doubt is an insult to your potential. If you want something, if you’re willing to work for it, then you deserve it and are capable of having it.

Well, that little pep talk was kind of exhausting let’s move on to my favorite of the three.

Failure

Failure! Fuck yes. Failure is my favorite and I’ll tell you why. Because failure means you were reaching for something better, something impossible, something unlikely and unsure. Failure means you stepped past your line of ‘acceptable risk’ and went rogue. Failure means you believed in something strongly enough to leap over that wall blocking your way. Failure is never a failure.

I’m already 102 submissions into my 100 rejections in a year challenge. Before I started this challenge, every rejection letter I got was a tiny little knife in the heart. A potential dream killer, a step closer to hanging up my pen and getting a real job. But you come to learn a few things:

  1. Failure is rarely fatal. (Ok–there is a disclaimer that you can totally fail something and end up killing yourself, so let’s not get into any discussions of Evil-Knievel stunts) Getting a rejection letter, even the worst and harshest one imaginable, will not kill you. But it may just teach you something.
  2. Failure teaches us. Failures aren’t setbacks as long as we learn something from them. Look I’ve had this kooky little story that I love, rejected like 40 times. Which tells me that even though I love it, there is something missing or needing cleaned up about it. I’m learning what makes a better story every time I write and send out a ‘less-good’ story. I learn that I can tweak and re-read and edit and cut out what doesn’t work. I learn to send it to the right markets. I learn to follow the submission guidelines. I learn that maybe my freak-flag is too much for some. Maybe it’s not enough for others.
  3. Repeated failure is a lesson book that you can take with you. In writing, especially, you learn what works and what does not. In life it is the same. And we gain these lessons and this experience from exploring and creating the opportunities for ourselves.

And just like that, I brought it full circle. Opportunity, Potential, Failure–rinse and repeat.

Go out there today and find or make an opportunity. Submit someplace new. Query an agent. Finish that novel. Get through that hard scene. None of these things need to be pretty or perfect. But they do need to get done.

Like this blog post.

“A Beautiful Twist” Update and A Bite of Poetry

Hello writers, readers, and future submitters. I wanted to put out an update about this year’s anthology. First, to all of those who have submitted, thank you so for sharing your words and stories. I’ve gotten a few really interesting and engaging submissions but the truth is, I haven’t actually received enough entries to complete a book. So, I am extending the deadline to December 1st, 2022. This of course will push the publishing date back by about two months but I would rather put out a good quality book that we can all be proud of.

In the event I don’t get enough entries, I will give the entrants an opportunity to have their work published and promoted on my website, or have it returned to them so that they may option it out elsewhere. I hope the new dates will give people more time to find something fun and twisted to send in and give those that have already made the cut a chance to still get their work out there and even earn a small amount of money for it. If you need details on the submission guidelines, here they are:

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Dates: Submission will open until December 1, 2022
  • Winners will be notified December 2022
  • Publication Date: TBA Early 2023
  • Submission guidelines: The Beautiful Stuff will be accepting, short stories (2000-5000 words), Flash Fiction (200-1000 words), Poetry (up to 5 poems allowed per submission), novel excerpts (up to 3000 words), and Personal Essays (up to 2000 words) all centered around the theme. I’m pretty lenient as far as genre. I will accept non fiction, fiction, speculative fic, western, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica, historical, hysterical, time jumping primates, talking frogs, brains in jars, and ANY combination thereof. Submissions translated to English are preferred. All humans are encouraged to send in their work, regardless of how they identify, what color wrapper they come in, or who they love. I may judge your font, but I’ll never judge you.
  • Contest is open to domestic and international writers but awards will be paid in US dollars. Please submit your work as an attachment to your email, which will be a lovely cover letter about you (name, email, job, what you write, what you love to do, your submission’s title, and the secret of life–haha, just kidding we all know its 42). Email subject line should read BEAUTIFUL TWIST SUBMISSION_name (not just ‘name’–use your name). The submission file (please use .doc, .docx, or another Word friendly format) should be the title of your submission and your last name i.e. “Merry Krampus-Reichert”
  • Top 3 submissions will earn prizes as follows: 1st–$30, 2nd–$20, 3rd–$10 paid via PayPal or Venmo (or check if need be). Runners up will be published in the anthology with a chance to compete in the Colorado Book Awards.
  • You may submit in multiple formats, multiple times (ie poems and flash, or novel excerpt and essay) but each submission must be in a separate email. You can copy and paste your cover letter…I’m not going to make you rewrite that thing, they’re a pain in the ass.
  • PLEASE DO NOT submit anything that has been previously published or that you no longer own the rights to. I can’t even begin to process the legalities, so just don’t. Don’t double dip. Simultaneous submissions are absolutely fine but LET ME KNOW if your work gets accepted elsewhere as soon as possible.
  • Prohibited subject matter includes: overtly violent or gruesome content that does not further the story, non consensual sexual acts, racist/homophobic/misogynistic/hate filled writing, violent or hurtful actions against children or animals, and anything that judges, stereotypes, or seeks to harm another human being based on their human being-ness. I’m cool with erotica done tastefully and along the lines of the theme. I’m also cool with expletives if they fit the character and scene and you’re not just using them like a 7th grade boy to look cool. Cool?

All right, now that you all have a little breathing room to get your stuff in (or procrastinate until November 30th) here’s a little poetry:

Showing Up

Every day is a stranger’s best guess

who’ll show up to fill my skin

not even I know what shape

my mind will take

or what chaotic beauty will emerge

from which butterfly’s wing flap

but I know she will be beautiful

she always is

broken or ballsy

tired gloom or bursting rainbows

contemplative or cursing

all shades of her grey matter

matter and shine and

she’ll do ten thousand amazing things

per second

without me directing

bring coffee to lips

walk steps

write poems

hug babies

manipulate words

toss around thought

buy the groceries

feed the soul

take the hit

give it back, times two

every day is fate’s best guess

who’ll show up to fill my skin

But she is always

broken and in-progress

uplifting and whole

whether in shades of gray

or color

I can always count

on me showing up

Self-Reflection and Time

The beautiful part of writing your own blog is that, while you can stay with one theme, sometimes its nice to get off the written path and…improvise a bit. Coming up with a blog this week (after I have somehow misplaced my blog plan for the year) saw me wobbling between some kind of self-promotion, poetry, or writing advice.

Well, I haven’t refined a poem that I’m ready to share yet, and I often get annoyed with too much self-promotion (my own mostly). I have lots of writing advice, but today I want to talk about time.

Time is a tricky sort of celestial magic. It is elusive and easy to lose, yet feels infinite and ongoing. The problem is that humans have such short spans of it to spend. And the more we spend, the faster what we have left goes. It is relative, and yet some moments can stop it. Days are long, but years are short. And the amount we are given is never guaranteed, nor is it ever enough.

So what do you plan to do with the time you have left?

I realize that working, sleeping, eating, caring for family and general ‘stay alive’ skills factor in. I’m talking about the minutes when you have a breadth of time to yourself.

Just before bed.

Right after you wake up.

That 15 minute break at work

the 20 minutes your baby is napping

The 2 minutes, sitting in your car before the kids get out.

The hours on your hands when your nest is empty.

The Saturday morning, the Wednesday afternoon, the Tuesday night…

You see, I just had another birthday, and every year when that date rolls around (especially since hitting 40) there is an urgent sense of morbidity.

What if this is the year?

That I get hit by someone watching their phone instead of the road while I’m out running. That my dog (or one, or all in a congregated attack of cats) trips me down the stairs. That I throw myself in front of my children, (or someone else’s) when a random gunman open fires at the grocery store. That I catch a benign case of the flu and run myself into walking pneumonia, and stop breathing in the night.

That the shadow on my pancreas has become a full-fledged tumor.

What if this is the last year I have left?

What do I want leave behind? I’m not trying to be a downer, or anticipate death. But time…

Time doesn’t slow for any of us. And time can stop us, dead, with the slightest universal plot twist.

What if this is the last year you have left? What if it’s the last month?

We don’t have time to wait. There is never a perfect time to do what you’ve always wanted to do. We have a limited time offer to live.

I have moments to enjoy with my children. I have a lot more naps in the sun with my dog. I have mountains to climb, smiles to spread, joy to foster, power to reclaim, and hurtful patterns to break. I don’t want to waste another minute on people who do not see my worth. I don’t want to waste a second on making the same mistakes that robbed me of time, or dignity, or love. I have so many more books to write. I have so many more poems to scribble down. More students to teach. More coffee to drink. More places to travel. More steps, more breaths, more life. And I want to pack as much of it all in, to every moment I have available.

Make a list. Today. This very minute. Pretend that it is all you have left to hope for and not much time to make it a reality. And start today. This very minute.

Time is not on our side. It is a ever-quickening beast, thundering beside us, and gaining ground. Your job, tiny chess-piece of the infinite universe, is to learn to move, and love, and live, every single moment you are here. So that when that monitor blip begins to slow, and the metronome of your heart ticks to ever-expanding spaces of silence… you know that you spent every beat of it well.

Book Review: A Spider in The Garden

Hello!

I’ve been so excited to write this post, since I’ve been loving this book. But, because I’m a literary spazz, and have three to seven books I’m concurrently reading at any given time, it’s taken me a little bit longer to finish. This is in no way reflective of the work. On the absolute contrary, please enjoy a Review of Courtney Davis‘s urban fantasy romance, A Spider in The Garden.

A Spider in The Garden is an urban fantasy romance set in present day and follows our heroine Aranha who is a shapeshifter of ancient origins and the last of her kind. She’s a Webmaker, can take the form of a spider (different kinds but always the same markings) and uses her deadly skills to trap predatory and violent humans, liquify their insides, and feed off of them. Aranha is a kick-ass female, who still holds compassion for humankind. She saves a young werewolf from an abusive and dangerous parent and the two spend their days, living in fear of being discovered by their enemies. It’s all well and good until she meets Dag, a Daywalker (a vampire immune to the sun), and the original-made-for-mate of the Webmaker. The two reluctantly work together to bring down the nefarious plans of the Vampire group, who is staging a comeback of their ancestor, in hopes to be able to breed again.

Davis’ ability to build a believable, fun, and beautiful world is amazing. Her characters are well formed, have relatable faults and fears and are sexy as hell. (Imma need me a Daywalker, like…STAT). The dialogue is fun and snarky and the two main characters weave (yeah, that’s a spider reference) a delicious sexual tension throughout the book that makes it exciting and captivating, even up until the very end of the book. Davis’ does such a fantastic job building a great plot, with dynamic side characters, and delivering a good ending that wraps up the bow of this fun, action packed, and sexy story. I know that its’ a stand alone book, but I really want to see more from this world and these characters. And that’s how you know an author has done a good job telling you a story. Because you just don’t want it to end.

For more of Courtney’s work, please check out the link above. She has a new scifi/fantasy romance out, (Princess of Prias) that’s already on my kindle…but as I’ve been having so much fun reading about Webmakers and Daywalkers, I have to catch up with the other six books before I can start it.

Check out these fun reads, and keep supporting the authors you love by reviewing their work online and by telling your friends.

Happy Reading!

Poetry 8-18-22

Good Morning!

So I’m back from my break, and refreshed. If you missed it, check out last week’s short romp through the benefits of disconnecting. Also, be aware, if I didn’t get to post on my hiatus that Westbury Falls episodes are cranking right along and we now have 7 chapters available with the 8th out this Saturday (8/20). And now– some poetry.

Step Forward or Fall Back

When the homesick sundering

of a heart caged, now freed

finds itself on the edge of the wild

once again

such a baited breath is held

that the stars pause rotation

and the wind stills birdsong

until the suffocating burning

reaps at lungs

and tears form along edges

of unblinking eyes

and heart begs the owner

decide

You have been caged too long

and you no longer know the

taste of free air

the smell of rushing water

the love of solitude and

what it is to live in your own skin

You are standing

precipice teetering

wondering if you should step back

into the safety of the metal bars

where you know your place

or forward into the unknown

where no place owns you

and you are one

with the wild things once more

A being of potential

and expansive joy

the capabilities to both starve

and thrive

live

and die

hurt

and heal

in your own time

on your own path

Do you fall back,

do you leap forward?

A Week Off

Good morning! If you’ve missed this post because you’re a link clicker then I must apologize. I’m on vacation this week, from teaching and training, from busy city life, and the normal rushed routine. I probably should take a break from writing as well, but lately I’ve been inspired by so many amazing people in the industry (Bernadette Marie, Courtney Davis, James Redmond, Calina and Saylet from “Shhh…We’re Reading Dirty Books”, my writing partner/mentor/coach Kerrie Flanagan, and the amazing group at Northern Colorado Writers as well as Wyoming Writers, Inc.) that it feels more like playing to write and I’m getting a lot of plot holes solved, new material written, and future projects planned.

Part of this inspiration and feeling like my brain is opening up like a flower to sunshine is that I am also taking a break from my social media accounts. Now I KNOW that it’s vital for an author to have a platform and a presence online and I respect that. The problem is that the programs and algorithms used on most of those sites are addictive. Even if your site is professional-based and you try not to interact with anything too volatile. Humans can’t help but be captivated by moving pictures, emotional stories, and the addictive ‘hits’ of clicking on ever-expanding information forums. Whether it’s an endless scroll of pit bull montages, emu interruptions, cats knocking shit off of tables, or the drama that finds and sinks talons into our stress response, it all occupies valuable creative space in our brains. I’ve been off the social media sauce since Saturday night and I actually feel pretty good.

Clearer.

Able to hear myself think…without so many other voices interjecting.

And when I’m bored or fidgety, instead of hopping on line to feed my constant need for entertainment, I’m writing. Or reading. Or running. Or meditating. Or sitting still and staring off into space and not thinking of anything in particular but how the sunshine feels on my back, or the cold nose of my dog, or my children’s laughter someplace in the house.

And letting my mind be bored and sit alone with itself has helped me reconnect with who I am, and what I want outside of the expectations of work and life, and social interactions. Rather than feeling the pressure of who I should be, and what I should want. Instead of stewing in past mistakes and regrets, or worrying over future anxieties of ‘what ifs’, I’m keeping my mind in the present, and focusing on the real moments I’m living, right now.

So, I’m sorry I’ll miss you online this week. Know that it’s a healing and healthy process for me and that I’ll be back sometime…filling your feeds with useless writing memes and loving all the pictures of your dogs and babies, celebrating your successes, and offering sympathy to your losses. But let’s be real for a moment, you don’t need my clicks to know that I love you. That I’m thinking about you. That I’m on the side of your happiness and wellbeing. Because of that I would ask that you try this out yourself. Just for a little while, enjoy some ‘radio silence’ and get to know yourself again.

See you soon.

Book Review: “Something Lost” by Bernadette Marie

Good morning ladies and gents. Once in a while, especially now that I’m trying to carve out more time in my packed days for reading, I like to offer up a review of some of the books I’ve read. In particular, I love being able to share authors with you who are great a story telling (fiction), offer excellent advice (nonfiction), and who’s styles are captivating, whether in fiction or nonfiction.

It makes it even more fun when it’s an author I’ve met and like, because I get more insights into their creative process, their style, and the quality of their work.

So, today, I’m reviewing “Something Lost” by Bernadette Marie, the first book in her Funerals and Weddings Series. Bernadette is an incredibly accomplished and prolific writer with more than 50 books published (Jesus, I’m slacking over here). She is also the head of 5 Prince Publishing as well as a mother of five (all boys…ya’ll this woman has raised 5. Boys.) And somehow, in her spare time she’s also earned a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. So, she’s just all-around awesome. To find out more about her, her books, and audiobooks, please visit the links above.

Now onto “Something Lost“.

The book begins at the funeral of Coach Diaz, a beloved basketball coach, father and mentor. His favorite five players, now grown up, return to pay their respects. Among them, is Craig Turner, a once troubled youth who found balance and stability on his team and with Coach’s support. He also once dated the coach’s daughter, Rachel, despite being warned not to. The two meet and rekindle the flame after having lived through some rough and terrible events.

The book is so well written that the story almost plays out like a movie in your head. Readers experience the ups and downs of a relationship that has painful ties to the past, while hope for a different kind of future. Bernadette’s ability to connect readers to her characters through their emotional honest and head-on exploration of hard topics like suicide, depression, self-harm, and abusive parents deepen this book into more than just an average romance novel. “Something Lost” explores what it is to be human, what we do to survive terrible loss, and how we come back from it to be stronger people still capable of honesty and love. The story moves quickly and the chemistry between Rachel and Craig is playful and heated.

I love that Bernadette Marie gives such sexual power and freedom to her female leads. One of my favorite parts about the book is how Rachel admits and prides herself on the fact that she means to seduce Craig and make him hers. And she’s strongly determined in this goal. Another brilliant and timely theme in the book is about the awareness of mental health, the openness of the characters in talking about it, supporting one another, and justifying the importance of it with seeking help and being active participants in their healing process. It’s an important concept that is long overdue to be accepted and practiced in mainstream. I’ve always believed that genre fiction stands as a bellwether for societal change and Marie approaches it with love, respect, and honesty.

The character dynamics between the main characters are wonderful, passionate and sweet, but the dynamics between the side characters (the other members of the team, Rachel’s mother and brother, and her best friend) help to build an interesting world of connected lives that are each unique. This is an art for any author writing series as it makes the reader want to know more about the ‘side’ characters, and promotes the next books focusing on them.

All in all, I loved being able to wind down at the end of a busy day with this book. It wasn’t that it was mindless–quite the contrary, it was a way for my overworked brain to relax and let someone else tell a good story to me. I’ll definately be checking out the rest of this series and all of her titles. With over 50, it should keep me in books for at least a couple of years.

2nd Person POV: You Are the Great White Whale of Perspective

Your name is Ahab but you ask the crowd to call you Ishmael. You are the outcast. A man with a singular determination that will destroy your life one league at a time. One sharp harpoon, rusty tipped after another; giant nails in the coffin of your sanity. You spend your life in pursuit of an enemy, who stole your leg, the ghost of which pains you every night, mocks you, like the monster’s great white smile…

I’ve talked about perspective before but today, I wanted to get more into the elusive and cagey fellow that lies between the literary popular 1st, and the genre popular 3rd. This is the perspective one rarely writes a novel in (though it has been done) but can pack a powerful punch when building emotional investment in your reader.

Let’s talk about “you“. That is…the 2nd Person POV.

What you may not know is 2nd person POV is often used as a more intimate alternative to 1st person. It almost feels like a narrator is putting the reader in the middle of the action and making them the lead while they hold their hand through the journey.

But why is it so treacherous?

Well, the grammar alone can be strange, and redundant. On top of that, it is easy to fall into heavy and long-winded monologuing from this perspective and forget that your novel/book/story, must also contain those vial elements of setting, other characters, dialogue, and plotline

(If you ever want to see how it’s done right, I encourage you to check out Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney: link)

So why do we bother using it? Well, like anything good and worthwhile in life, storytelling should evolve, it should test boundaries and experiment with ways to bring readers into our little worlds. In addition to that, 2nd person POV is a beautiful way to break up a scene by adding suspense, asking bigger picture questions, and engaging our readers on a more personal level.

It is an effective tool for removing a reader from a difficult situation while still keeping them interested. If your subject matter is ethically challenging (drug abuse, violence, non-conforming ideals) putting the scene or story in 2nd allows for the author and the reader to put you in the shoes of the person going through the questionable behavior. It’s a way to show the humanity behind bad decisions or the person in the crime, rather than being removed and judgmental towards the material presented.

If we see, third-hand, a man using cocaine in a bathroom we will make all kinds of judgements, but when the writer says something like,

“You promised yourself this would be the last hit, the one-way ticket to get you back to where you needed to be in your circle of friends. After all, those friends are the only family you have. What’s one little white line? They are cheering you on from behind and it feels like being on top of the world for that one brief inhale.”

2nd person POV is a beautiful way to get inside the characters head and making you the character at the same time.

2nd person is also great for allowing the writer to break a bit of the fourth wall and talk to a reader directly. Which can be fun, and strange but like I said, experimenting brings us to new ideas about how writing can affect us and our readers.

One of my favorite ways to use 2nd person POV is in a broader sense of humanity. I utilize it occasionally in poetry when dealing with universal ideas of loss, scarcity, war, hardship, joy, birth and death. Authors can tell the story we all are a part of and bring clarity and consciousness to larger metaphysical concepts and philosophy.

This method is often employed in passages scattered throughout a 3rd or 1st person POV novel, as a character telling a larger-picture story or asking a question that begs for more introspection.

If you’d like to give it a try remember: Avoid long monologues, stick to the action (just like any good writing), and don’t forget to do the work of writing (dialogue, scenes, sensory info). Also, start small, poetry, flash, short stories are a great venue for experimenting.

Converting current WIP (works in progress) or parts of them into 2nd can help you suds out the emotion you’re trying to hook the reader with as well as give you a fresh perspective on a character or scene that is simply not working.

Good luck out there.

Remember this Saturday (7/30), Episode 5 (“The Rainstorm”) of Westbury Falls will be available on Kindle Vella (link)

Poetry 7-21-22

Good morning! Today I’m just going to leave some poetry out here, and see if anyone wants it. Part thick blankets of scars, part unrelenting love, part battle weary hearts. But all truth.

The Man was Made of Scars

Weren’t you ten feet tall
a bulletproof liaison to the world
sent to make it so much a better place

until bombs exploded
shrapnel hit and bullets sang 
crushed the air between barrel 
and your unwilling skin

until you shed blood, 
with hands that once combed 
through sun bleached hair
from a world made of cotton candy
and Ferris wheels
to one painted red 
in the sands
of another country

Weren’t you found
and lured away from those neon streets,
and beach-lived boardwalks 
by promises of adventure
and the sunlit coast
became 
generator lit and
full of shadows in
gaped-hole buildings

Weren’t you soft in creation 
borne of love and hope
until the world sent armies of mercenaries
disguised as honest work
and missions accomplished
all adding layers
to the thick wall of scars
armoring your body
and chaining over
the door of your heart

Weren’t you ten feet tall
 once,
and always . . . for the rest of your life

until these damn wounds
 


Would That I (On the Matter of Anorexia)

would that I could save you
wrap my arms around and
whisper 
you are enough
the final word on the matter, 
a benediction 
no rebuttal

would that I could save you
bring your tears to halt
calm the incessant raging of doubt and hurt
that runs blades around your brain 
and makes you forget
you are not these
unforgiving storms

would that I could save you
carry you up and over
these days of engulfing uncertainty
help you come home 
to a place of just being 
of looking into a mirror
and knowing 
you were born perfect
and nothing has changed since then

would that I could save you
slay this dragon and hang 
its bloodied head on the mantle
reminding all destructive beasts
they’ll meet destructive ends
at the hands of my love.

But I cannot kill this dragon for you.

I can stand beside you
I can give you the sword, 
point out its weak spots 
and steady your hands on the hilt
I can give you rest from battle 
so you can outlast the nights
until we come out, victorious.


The Seamstress

I’ve made a full-time job
out of trying to save your heart
but the hours are long
and the pay is low
the benefits are murky
and there’s no time off
no one else
can cover my shift

I reattach pieces as they come undone
hold your hand 
and stitch with the other
but the flesh is over sewn
and each seam gets weaker
and every time I knot the end
of one line 

another begins to fray
and fall away

and I press my hand to it 
and steel my nerve
and tell you it will be alright
even as you thrash against the pain
and fight my efforts
to keep it from killing you

wishing I’d just

stop.

wishing I’d just leave
your battered,
bloody,
aching, 
flesh alone

can’t hurt if it’s not beating
you tell me

but it’s my full-time job,
and I wouldn’t know what to do
if I couldn’t save your heart.

Westbury Falls is Live!!! And Other Cool Stuff

Two promotion blogs back to back? What the hell have I become? A corporate lackey? No–just an artist who’s excited to share her work as well as the work of some really stellar writers.

First things first. Westbury Falls is now available per chapter on Vella and here’s the link:

Westbury Falls

But why read it, you say, if I’ve gotten it up to chapter 10 for free here?

Well, because I’ve added things, changed the chapters around, and you’ll actually get to know what happens when things get steamier beneath all those layers of clothes and propriety. It’s a beautiful and intriguing mystery/sci-fi/steamy romance and I can’t wait to see how it ends (I’m mean–I’m pretty sure I know how it’ll end) Also, per legal reasons, I’m removing it from my website.

The good news is: You can read the first three episodes for free, and the tokens for subsequent chapters are really…really…inexpensive. (Like, I’ll make maybe $3.49 for everytime someone reads the whole book) So if nothing else, you’ll be supporting your friendly neighborhood author for a price less than a cup of coffee.

Second: My charming, delightful and wonderful co-paneling author and friend, Courtney Davis just released her newest book “Princess of Prias” (click on the title to take you directly to the order page). Davis is an author with 5 Prince Publishing, a wonderful small publishing company founded here in Colorado that has a fantastic and diverse line up of romance writers. Check out more of their titles here:

5 Prince Publishing

I’ll be doing some book reviews in the next few weeks of some of 5 Prince Publishing’s major authors as well as some of the cool writers I met with over Fan Expo.

Because I don’t want this to be entirely about promotion, here’s a little writing advice for the week:

I’m in the thick of my first real edits for my 8th novel and I’m realizing that I’m rewriting a great deal of it from scratch. But although its labor-intensive, I’m crafting a story that I like even more than the original and building a world that I want to spend some time in (say two more novels at least?) At the same time I’m trying to multi-market my work as much as possible. I sometimes wonder if I’m spreading my creative energy too thin. This is a new world for writers and authors. We are our own marketing staff. We have to have an online presence and a platform, and still manage to find the time to actually write and edit books.

Don’t forget your purpose. Don’t get so bogged down in the business side of writing that you forget to come back to the joy that drove you to start. I once heard someone say, “Don’t let your ambition get in the way of your joy” and that really struck me. I also believe that when we start with our joy, it is easier to believe in it and feel good about sharing it with others. So here’s the advice…let your joy be the source of your ambition, but make time to enjoy what you love without the endgame always being financial success.

Catching Up and A Whole Lotta Links

Just a quick blog this week to let you know I’ve finally gotten Westbury Falls set up on Kindle Vella, and the first episode will be available Sunday, July 10th. I’ll send a link out via all the socials on it’s release date. There will be additional goodies written into the chapters, so even if you’ve been keeping up so far, you’ll get new insights to Lillian and Matthew’s adventures.

For those of you waiting for the next books (The Sweet Valley Series) I’m afraid you will have a little while longer to wait. I’m exploring some different opportunities but I guarantee that when I hear news you’ll hear it too. My goal is to have them out sooner rather than later.

Also worth mentioning. My science fiction adventure novella is now a completed audiocast! Here are the links in various formats to listen to it.

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/ff4ba549-f715-4fa8-b6f0-a6bc3b9727af/saturn-rising?refMarker=null&

https://www.audible.com/pd/Saturn-Rising-Podcast/B09SNLTJ6B

https://podbay.fm/p/saturn-rising

I’m so proud of this project, and love hearing the story brought to life. A thousand times a billion thanks to Ngano Press Studios and their amazing work. I hope I can collaborate with them in the future on other projects.

Submissions for The Beautiful Stuff Anthology 2023 are still open! Contact me here for more details or visit the submissions page to get a list of the rules. The theme is “A Beautiful Twist” and I’m accepting multiple formats (poetry, short story, flash fiction) of writing.

I attended the Fan Expo in Denver last weekend and was blown away by the amount of talented, generous, and wonderful writers in attendance. In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing up some reviews on their books and services they offer.

In the panels I was able to attend, I met a lot of beautiful humans, both readers and writers, and was able to engage in some great discussions about where the genre of Romance is headed, why it’s important to utilize it in other genres, and how to expand your audience and reach. All in all, it was a successful, fun, and engaging time and I wanted to thank everyone who stopped by.

I’m always heartened by how many people are out there, aspiring to write, working hard on finishing their works in progress, and struggling as we all do. Keep up the good fight. Keep writing. Don’t let life, distractions, or self-doubt kill that desire. Write. Write. Write.

That’s my quick catch-up and I hope in the next weeks to get you some book reviews, write ups on Point of View, how romance has changed and evolved, and what we can look forward to in the future with genre trends. Also, links to more of my work and some exciting things coming out.

Again, feel free to contact me with questions about submitting to the anthology!

Until then. Write. Write. Write.

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

Mining your memories: A Short Blog About Memoirs

Good morning kids. Today’s blog is about memoir. Before you close out of my page, thinking you’re too young to write such a thing and that it’s for little old people who are trying to recapture the sand slipping away in their hourglass…let me stop you.

Good stories are ones we relate to, and so can come from anywhere, in any time period, in any state. Being able to tap into your memory, isn’t just good for memoirs, it’s also good for descriptive scene setting, character development, and capturing those beautiful ‘show’ moments.

How do I figure?

Fiction or not, being able to recall details, sift through what you remember and why it was memorable, is a skill that will serve you in any genre. The perspective of ten-year-old you is a charming voice that we all, in some part, want to re-experience. Retelling from your memories is a practice that can help you see the world through different lenses, and what you remember tells you a lot about where you were in life and the character you embodied. A mom’s perspective and memory of her child’s first day of school is going to be completely different than her child’s memory of the day. The first breaking of your heart at 16 is going to harken a different intensity than your last broken heart a decade later. Understanding the humanity of your memories will bring you closer to creating depth in your characters.

So, how do you even begin?

Everything has a story and the best stories are told by ordinary people. It’s not about what happened, necessarily, it’s what happened to you. What you remember and what stands out to you from past memories, creates a personal tie to your reader and their own memories. It also shrinks down big events and forces the humanity into view.

Example:

“I remember the spiky Velcro of my sneakers, scratching my legs as I sat criss-cross in the lunchroom (still smelling of sloppy joes and spilled milk) while the third-grade teacher wheeled in the small TV to the center of our circle. The grainy picture of a rocket puffing out into a cloud of white with the trailing boosters snaking off into the atmosphere was confusing and anticlimactic to the excitement in the room. But what was more troubling was the way the teachers behind us gasped, crumpled to the floor, sobbed and looked to one another for explaination that could not be found, before hurrying us back to our classrooms.”

Versus-

“The Challenger, carrying high school teacher Christa McAulliffe, exploded shortly after takeoff, on January, 28 1986”

The biggest obstacle to this practice is, the human brain is often complex and muddled and gleaming the true memory of an event or time can be hard. Having practiced this a little, I can tell you that it’s really shocking how much of my childhood I don’t remember. Because I simply haven’t made a habit of talking about it. Many of us don’t. We no longer live in an oral-storytelling society and it’s a real detriment to how we solidify memories.

When writing from memory, we have to work from both memory and imagination, and reassemble the past with both. We have no other choice than to see it through the lens of who we are now, so even the best memories are filtered by the knowledge and experience we’ve gained since the time we’re trying to remember. We often reframe memories in a way that fits into our whole story, and as soon as we write about it, we begin to shape it. That’s not all that’s funny about memories.

If you’ve ever noticed telling a story and retelling it to a different person or group, the story starts to change depending on the audience. Other factors that can contribute to muddling the memory water are how long its been since the event, who was there, and how we want people to perceive it.

My suggestion to you is to start writing events down that you remember. Big and small (the death of a family member, to the first time you tied your shoes). Pick a year, an event, a memory, just one a day and write what you remember about it. Find a quiet spot. Close your eyes, think of the memory and with pen and paper (or laptop if you simply must) write down whatever comes up. Even if it’s murky, even if its disjointed. These are shadows that exist for a reason. In fact, write down what you can’t remember (I remember the flowers were bright pink and orange, but I can’t remember walking out of the funeral home). Those details speak to the state of mind you were in.

These are the rough drafts of human interest and ways to connect to others. Your essays on memories can be the the bulk material needed for character history, short stories or poetry. And maybe one day, your own memoir.

Whatever your past, however dull or fantastical you think it is, whether it’s 89 years worth of experience and life or only 12, you have a responsibility to put it down.

The Giant But

Nope. I didn’t miss a “t”. And this isn’t a self-reflective rant about the aging spread going on behind me. Today’s blog is about excuses, dare I even say… self-imposed limits.

I believe I’ve talked about the dangerous ‘but’ in terms of how we love one another, and how we limit feelings by making excuses from perceived imperfections. However, today’s talk is more about the detrimental “but” that gets between us and our dreams.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances the exact phrase:

“I’d love to write but…”

But…I have no time. But…I just can’t get started. But…I’m not very good. But…It’s hard to publish these days. But…people may not like it.

No.

Nope.

Stop it, no.

Nuh uh.

Not valid (and who cares if they like it?)

Article done! BAM!  Shortest blog ever. Happy writing!

Okay…I’m kidding.

Those big buts up there don’t lie. They are all valid excuses. Excuses that we build like walls in front of our potential. Walls of excuses to keep us from even attempting the loving art of writing because it also keeps us safe. Safe from rejection, safe from the work, safe from the expectation. Safe from failing. Safe from succeeding.

But is a wall builder.

But builds walls based on fear and hatred and not scientific, psychologically proven facts.

But keeps you away from ever having to actually start.

Now I’m sure there are people out there saying they want to write a novel to make me feel like I’m not so strange, all wholed-up in my pajamas, afraid of the general public. Maybe people tell me they’d “love” to write more, to make polite conversation.

This blog isn’t for those small-talkers (but bless your heart for trying to make me feel comfortable about my chosen/driven profession despite its financial drawbacks).

This blog is for those whose eyes shine with longing when they talk about that book they want to, need to, would love to write. This is your permission slip to the great unknown outside your stuffy, self-imposed safety.

No more buts.

Try this:

Say it outloud…softly “I would like to write a book.”

Little bit louder now: “I would love to write a book!”

Say it like you mean it!: “I want to write a book!”

So the people in the back can hear!!: “I WILL WRITE A BOOK!”

Deep breath you crazy loon.

And rejoice in not using the but.

You will write that book.

Stop looking at the world as a place of excuses waiting to trip you up and make you fail and start looking it as the beautiful, messy experiment that has no wrong turns, only lessons.

Need help starting? Great! Let’s strike while your fire is hot!

If you have an idea for your novel, or article, or short story, write it down. Loose outlines are great but if you are a type-A outliner, then give yourself an hour or two to adequately plot it down. There are some great computer programs if you’re that kinda nerd. Or if your MY kind of nerd, post-it notes on a wall or story board are awesome.

Chances are if you’ve been thinking about a book then you already have some characters in mind. Spend twenty minutes (or whatever you can spare at kid’s practices or boring meetings) writing down your main and sub characters’ physical attributes, their strengths, their weaknesses. Write about their childhood, their friends, their parents…none of which needs to go into the book, but it will help you understand their motivation so that when you write the story, they behave in ways coherent with their core.

Join a writing group and take the classes they offer. Todd Mitchell (Todd’s Website) once offered an amazing four week class on writing a novel that covered everything from plotting, to dialogue, to genre, and story arcs. It was maybe the most profound and important class I’ve taken and I highly recommend you start with something like that if you are struggling at the start. Plus going to classes and joining groups helps to build the immensely important network of friends and cohorts who will help you along in your process.

Stock up your library. One of the first things I did after scribbling down a rough outline was lay in the fetal position in tears (well, not quite that dramatic but it makes for a better story) and wonder how someone actually created a functioning plot. Enter the Write Great Fiction Series. They’re some of my favorite resources and they offer everything from plot and structure, dialogue, character and viewpoint etc.

Final bit of advice. Don’t let the but come back into your process. (I’d love to edit my novel but the laundry needs doing– the vacuuming, the scope of work meeting notes, the kids fiftieth soccer game this month.)

Nope. Fuck that noise.

There is time in your life to write a novel. You just have to want it and learn to say no to buts.

giggle
Come on. It’s a but joke…

You have to make your word count your priority. And no cleaning for god’s sakes until your daily goal is met. No video games or puttering around either.

If you want the novel; if you want to unleash the story burning inside of you, then stop giving yourself the excuses to not write it.

Make the time. Make the novel. Banish your but(t)… to the chair.

To write your novel.

Go.

Leaps of Faith, and Other Stupid Ideas

Friends, I’m taking off tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. That’s three in the goddamn morning. All because, on a whim built by the impending doom of middle age, bouts of deep depression, and a general lack of self-preservation, I decided it would be a “fun” idea to sign up to fill a vacant spot on a random Ragnar Trail Relay team one short month ago.

I’m not sure if I was thinking it would count towards training inspiration, an escape from my day to day, or if it stemmed from some kind of deep-seated desire to find an adventurous death, but whatever the case—I’m soon to be on my way up the mountain, for a trying 30 hours and 15+ miles of no sleep, altitude climbs, rough single track, and hanging out in a sweaty tent with 7 other people I don’t really know. (They’re mostly comprised of lovely nurses and good-hearted runners, so I will be in capable hands, even if I try to die by wild animal attack.)

While I’m in some ways dreading the experience, there is a part of me that understands that this challenge, while unnecessary and possibly adding to my overall stress, is something of value.

My life of late has been…tumultuous. It’s been a rough day… since about 2020… and personal conflicts and their responding growth have come at a cost to the security I once felt with my place in the world. I’m in a state of upheaval and I honestly don’t know what next year, next month, or even next week will look like.

Sometimes, when we undergo these painful growth spurts it can feel that we’re a little lost in the world. As Paul Simon once sang. Nothing is different but everything has changed. Oceans and Mountains

Part of us is still lagging behind in our old ‘knowns’, part of us has been thrown into a blender of new and frightening possibilities. We are, as a species, not designed to stay stagnant. Challenges, hardships, changes, and losses are elements of the journey that test our ability to adapt and grow. If we don’t…we’re doomed to stay immobile an maybe what’s worse, risk living half a life. You should really watch this movie…

When you only get 76 years, 42 starts feeling like a decline to the end. A sharply steep trail, in the dead of night that only seems to drop faster, the farther we go down. Rocks slipping under our feet, scrub tearing at our ankles, and the out of control realization that nothing we do, really matters. We’re all headed to the bottom.

So the question then becomes, do we stay stagnant and let the gravity of life take us down the hill, a complacent body rolling over cactus and sharp stone? Or do we try to stand in the midst of the pull. Control the hill so the hill doesn’t control you?

Now, I’m a bit free-wheeling, and I’ll never tell you to try to control things in life outside of your power. The hill is there, you’re going down it. The path has rocks you can’t see until they’re tripping your toes, and falls that will scar and scare you. But you can control your legs, how you view those rocks, and perhaps most importantly, how you rise after you fall. (I prefer cursing, gritting my teeth, a bit of healthy anger, a good laugh at myself, and continuing on)

The thought occurs to me that one of the reasons I signed up for this crazy race…might have been to remind myself of how strong I am. Of how many mountains I have climbed, and how many falls I’ve survived. A good dose of suffering can sometimes bring out the heart that has been shuttered for too long. Maybe in every aching footstep, is a starlit night. Maybe in every scraped knee and bruised elbow, is a view you’d never have seen if you didn’t choose to fight your way up that hill. Maybe it’s not a good death I’m looking for, but a better life.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find it, on a dark starlit night, beneath a blazing sun, alone but still supported, on the long and distant trail. Find Your Heart

Move, Pitch, Get Out the Way

Yeah, I did just title this blog that…No, I’m not sorry. Yes, I hope that song plays in your head all day. Yes, it may seem “Ludacris”. Yes, I did just make a dad joke out of it. No, you can’t get a refund, this shit is free.

Now, on to the blog

This week, tomorrow actually, I’ll be pitching a novel to a publishing company at the Wyoming Writers Conference in Sheridan Wyoming. I know that this should be something I do at least every year but with the past couple of years spent in lockdown and my creativity taking a giant dump of late, I haven’t had the drive, material, or need to throw myself into the ring.

But, by strange happenstance, the novel that I had intended to independently publish started getting noticed by some publishers that I had sent it to months ago. Three days before its release date nonetheless, so I slammed the breaks down and took a breath. A pause. A consideration. That if the story was “Well written, with a voice we really like” that maybe I should give it another tour around the pasture before settling it on my own.

So here I am again, years later, still sweaty palmed, reading and re-reading, and choking on my elevator pitch and changing it a dozen times to get the most depth of the story in the fewest words. And it’s exhausting. The sudden surge of trepidation inspired me go through some of my notes from previous classes and books on pitching. And here’s what I have to offer:

  1. Agents and publishers are human beings. They’ve probably slept horribly, are sore and uncomfortable from sitting, have heard a lot of story ideas, and are probably thinking about the cash bar. Just like you. So don’t treat them like a god up on Olympus, cowering or waving tribute in their faces. Be kind, be polite, and use some of your allotted time to treat them with dignity and respect. They’re there because they love reading and want to find a good story.
  2. Tell them why you love your story. Yes, yes, the general plot, genre, main character and conflict…but what is it about your book that fills your heart. Why do you find a reason to read and re-read it? What were some of the best compliments you receive from your beta readers. Human beings respond to enthusiasm and genuine admiration. Otherwise, we’d never watch baseball. Moving on.
  3. Be organized. Have a synopsis ready, bring a query letter and your business card. It’s been a long day for them and you; stories might start running together and they may need a gentle reminder what the 1:20 pitch was.
  4. Be open to suggestions and critique. Whoof, this one is hard, right? After all, we just gushed about what we love in our book. While you love it (or hate it depending on how many goddamn times you’ve had to read it and rewrite it) it is also a good time, before you sit down at that table, to think of your fledgling story like a kid going off to college. Its stepping out into the world to be made better, smarter, stronger. It has a lot to learn, so let it be open to becoming something more and living up to its potential. It isn’t a reflection on you as a parent, it’s a starting point for even more amazing results to come.
  5. Follow up. I’ve sat in the pitch sessions where every agent gave me their card and asked for ten pages. I thought I was a goddamn genius and that they’d be engaged in a bidding war over my book within weeks. Um…hate to ruin the ending there but THAT didn’t happen. Sometimes agents are required by the conferences they attend to receive a certain number of pitches. Sometimes an agent is mildly interested and looking for something to pad up their own resume. Sometimes they’re just bust-ass tired and like a parent giving in and handing their kid a remote cause they just can’t listen anymore, they pass along their card with a defeated…”stay in touch”. That being said, if it happens, act as though it’s the bidding war situation, not the tired parent. Send them what they asked for, in the format they asked for it in, and be respectful with your letter. ALWAYS INCLUDING: your name, that you met at ‘such and such conference’ and that they requested your pages. If you can, PLEASE include some other more personal detail. “It was fun talking to you about your dog, Jasper” (write that kind of thing down on their business card) but don’t make it too personal “I hope his rash has cleared up.” (that’s getting creepy)

After it’s all said and done a pitch session is like any other interaction introverts dread. You have to talk, somewhat excitedly, about something you love and worked hard on, and thereby risk rejection and public shaming. But please remember that the person sitting across from you is also probably an introvert (or works with a lot of them) and just wants you to tell them a good story.

Good luck out there, and if you’ll be in Sheridan this weekend for the conference I’d love to sit down and chat about pitches, your book, all the wonderful things we’re working on. Happy writing.

Poetry 5-26-2022

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

Today’s poem is something from a few years back that I unearthed in the midst of looking for some pieces to critique during this year’s Wyoming Writers Conference. It’s a little rough. But that’s how gems are found. I’ve reworked it but I’m going to leave it a little raw. Because I remember that’s how I felt writing it. The rain outside today only compounds a lot of the heavy things in my heart these days. They are days of muffled creativity and the feeling that my bones are too old to carry the weight. I hope the sky clears soon.

The Fall

I was brought down in that muted moment

like the silent space a can leaves

between kicks, down the street.

It was the heart beat of a city,

neon blood pulsing

and breathing subway grates,

the singular misstep down an open shaft

It was the knowing better

but doing anyway

angels not caring enough

to stop your steps up her stairs

It was in the hundred and four seconds

you had the chance to say no

and the hundred and five choices

that still led to yes.

It was the biggest fissure

earth shaking chasm,

opening wide two halves

of a tender young heart

a canyon whose sides would never meet again

making me the proud owner

of a man-made monstrosity,

gifting me my first ticket

to lay broken at the bottom of a choice

I didn’t make.

That’s where I fell

my introduction to the dark

a swift kick down the street

denting my tin as I landed

only to be launched up,

fall down

again

and again.

My Random Summer Reading List

I know it’s been said that a writer must read a lot in order to write well.

This was probably said by someone whose only job was to write. It was definitely not written by a mom who works two extra jobs in addition to writing and parenting. I know that time is limited. And although I LOVE to read, I also know that it sometimes takes a back seat to the ‘have-to’ list that is my life. So I would amend that you should read as often as you can. And it doesn’t have to be grand, sweeping novels of classical literature. Reading articles (well written and somewhat brain stimulating), short stories, poetry, or flash fiction all count.

Being what it is, when I get to sit down and read a book, I will often fall into lighter genres of fiction, usually, with a preference for romance, suspense, psychological thrillers, fantasy and urban fantasy, speculative, some sci fi, and a dash of historical fiction. That’s not to say I don’t read non-fiction. But I tend to reserve those books for book club invites and I’m not too proud to say there are some of those I never finished.

So, in thinking about reading, I’d like to offer you some good rules for every writer to follow when it comes to the limited time you have.

  • You should always have three different books on your nightstand at all times.
    • Something you love (by genre or author)
    • Something that challenges you (out of your genre, or tougher content)
    • Something that broadens your knowledge base or improves your craft.
  • Take a book along whenever you
    • have more than five minutes to wait
    • are traveling, anywhere
    • want to feign being ‘busy’ in the company of people you’d rather not talk to.
  • When you find yourself dreading a book, not because it’s challenging to your beliefs or makes you similarly uncomfortable, but because it’s nauseatingly boring or poorly written…stop reading it and move on. Life is too short to waste reading time on something that doesn’t bring you joy or positive change

So, now that you have a good reference for how to choose a book and how to get it written, here’s a list of books I’ve recently finished reading or are on my nightstand. I encourage you to be eclectic and curious when you chose your books, but always have something familiar for the nights when you need the comfort of an author or genre you’re familiar with.

Check these out:

In the category of craft/professional development:

  1. Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life by Teresa R. Funke
  2. Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Become Your Ultimate Creative Self by Todd Mitchell
  3. Write Naked by Jennifer Probst
  4. Ed Parker’s Encyclopedia of Kenpo by Ed Parker
  5. Seishin Shuyo: Mental Training in Traditional Martial Arts by Jimmy Lockett
  6. The Trail Runner’s Companion by Sarah Lavender Smith

For something that challenges/stretches my worldview and brains:

  1. Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  2. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
  3. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  4. How to See Yourself as You Really Are by the Dalai Lama
  5. TransQuality by Bethany Beeler
  6. Ornkey: A Historical Guide by Caroline Wickham Jones

In the category of somethings I love:

  1. Mr. Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson (all of his books thus far have been phenomenal)
  2. The Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig (again, a smart, beautiful writer, with a heavy dose of IDGAF bravado)
  3. Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater (haven’t read yet, but looking forward to it)
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (I couldn’t put this one down)
  5. The Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy by Nora Roberts (both of these series are ones I could reread every year)
  6. The Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts

Well, there you have it. Go forth and spend some of these beautiful days, beneath the shade of a tree, losing yourself in the written word. Voracious readers (in the time they have to give) make better writers.

The Power of “What If?”

I know that I’ve written before about bolstering our creativity by keeping open minds concerning the direction our stories, characters, and plots can take. But in a world that can sometimes feel like a dark cloud over new ideas I think it’s important to revisit the power of a positive “What If?” in the way we approach our roadblocks.

We’ve all been in the middle of a down time in our writing and creativity. I know there are people out there that will preach that writer’s block does not really exist and you’re just procrastinating, or not wanting to put the work in.

While it is true that you’ll never write anything if you don’t actually sit down and write, trying to pour out a story (whether its 500 words or 100,000) from an overloaded, overworked, and over stimulated brain can be like trying to jam a king-sized sleeping bag into a twin sized sack. You know what I’m talking about.

There’s not enough room.

Some of the blocks taking up space may include fear (of failure and/or success), self-doubt, and perfectionism. These show up like the ghost in a Scooby Doo episode, unmasked to reveal depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, and even ADHD.

So you’ll never hear me say that writer’s block doesn’t exist (and if I have claimed that before, I retract it). I believe that the inability to create can have very real sources that we sometimes need a dynamic team of teenage detectives in an ugly van to suss out.

Today, I’d like you to apply the two-word question to those moments of stifled creativity and see what happens.

Here’s an example:

“I have a novel, nearly complete, but you can’t figure out how to end it. It’s been on my laptop for a month and it’s driving me insane but every scenario in my head doesn’t ‘feel’ quite right, so I’m just not writing any ending at all.”

Why, that’s not a werewolf! It’s that dirty landowner PERFECTIONISM (who runs a floating crap game called FEAR).

By asking ourselves what we’re really afraid of, what’s really so hard about the situation (I don’t want to write the WRONG ending, none of the endings are GOOD ENOUGH) we can face the fear directly and start asking what if….

What if you took one hour each day to write three separate endings, for each of the different possibilities you have? Unattached to the novel, a separate document. Call it exploratory research. I would bet dimes to dollars that you’ll find one that is the BEST for your novel, and feel much more capable of completing the next project on deck.

Here’s another one.

“I haven’t written any new poems in over a week, I don’t feel creative, I don’t have any ideas. I can’t find the RIGHT words. I have submissions due, I can’t focus, and I can’t even remember how to write a good poem. I’m not a poet.”

Say, that’s not a two headed mummy! It’s the motel owner’s shady uncle ANXIETY and his henchman DEPRESSION. Your brain is overworked and can’t focus, you feel like there’s nothing new in the world to write about, or worth writing about. With a trace of PERFECTIONISM, and a dash of IMPOSTER SYNDROME, this combination puts an end to possibilities before they can even reach your brain.

What if you spent ten minutes outside? Find a tree, flowering bush, cloud, roly-poly, something not man made, and focus on it for ten solid breaths in and out. Don’t look at anything else, don’t think about anything else, don’t draw your attention away from that one object. How does it move, how is the light hitting it, how long has it been there, what color is it, does it smell, does it have a taste, what’s it made of?

Not only will being outside and remembering to breathe help you to relax and curb some of those anxious and depressive feelings, but you’ll realign yourself with the beauty of noticing the small things. And details bring poetry to life. Then sit down, in the grass, and write something, no more than a page, about what you felt, what you saw, what you took in through all of those sentences. Repeat, with anything. Human, animal, mineral, place, time, concept. The possibilities are endless.

Last one, best one.

“I can’t write a synopsis! It’s so detailed and I can’t possibly boil down my entire novel into a few pages. I wouldn’t know where to start, and what’s the point, no one will take my novel anyway!”

Oh, my little defeatist, that’s not a man-eating robot, why it’s nothing but the cranky heiress SELF-DOUBT dressed up in a spray painted, cardboard box!

Look, not every writer is birthed knowing how to write a synopsis. In fact, absolutely none of them are (I think they are, however, birthed with an extra gene carrying the appreciation of ‘old-book’ smell and a tendency towards adverb-overuse and caffeine addictions) We all had to research it, take a class on it, and put in the work including probably a dozen revisions along the way.

You can find a great resource for how to write one here:

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/

If you’re an plotter, a synopsis is easier. You have it all typed up somewhere, so work off your outline and put aside a time-specific block to work on it and only it. If you’re a pantster, may God have mercy on your immortally, unorganized soul, because it is fucking hard to do. Same thing though, set aside an afternoon (or two) with a start and end time and write it out like you would a copy of Cliff Notes

Add something enjoyable to the completion (extra coffee or old books?) to make the goal a little sweeter to reach. Have someone who doesn’t know your book read the synopsis (yes, it should give away the ending, no, don’t worry if Janet in Accounting knows how it ends). They can let you know if it’s easy to follow without being overwhelming.

Self-doubt, fear, perfectionism, anxiety and depression are not final resting places for your writing (or other creative endeavors). They’re road blocks brought on by your own expectation and unrealistic standards. The best advice I can give you about “What If” is to ask yourself, in the face of rejection, frustration, and doubt…

What if you can? What if you can write that book? What if you could write three poems in an hour? What if you can send your pitch, synopsis, and novel out by the end of the week?

What If, when used properly, can be the precursor to hope.

So give yourself hope. Give yourself a choose-your-own-adventure. Give yourself a good what iffing.

That got weird. You know what I mean.

Self-Editing (It’s Not Just for Polite Conversation)

I’ve read a lot of books on this topic, scoured blogs, took any and every class I could at conferences and workshops on the matter, but I always still feel like there’s vast room for improvement when it comes to editing your own work.

Part of the reason is that it’s incredibly hard after writing, rewriting, and rewriting again (times a thousand) to edit all of those words. Not because we’re narcissistic megalomaniacs and don’t think there’s anything wrong with our novel, but because there’s a true phenomenon that happens in our brains as we read (and re read, and re read again) our own work.

The human brain is complex and the way it takes in and interprets stimuli from outside is a complicated and delicate dance. If we were to notice every single thing in our world, we wouldn’t be able to exist in it. The noise, the colors, the sound, the smells are so varied and ever present that our brains would be in a constant state of interpretation that would cause us to vomit, or pass out. Or both. (Which is one of the reasons so many people on the spectrum can have a difficult time coping with crowded, noisy, overstimulating places). As a result, we tend to soften the edges of a lot of information, block it out, or keep it in the peripheral of our consciousness, allowing our brains to make up a great deal of what we take in, through context.

It can be the same as when we edit. We tend to be in a taking-things-for-granted-because-I-read-it-so-many-times-before haze. We coast over the words and retell ourselves the story we already know in our heads, rather than focusing on what is actually on the page.

You, the author who created this magnificent book, know what it’s supposed to say, you know what you meant when you wrote it. So in your brain, when your eyes pass over the words, it will fill in the missed words, ignore the double ones, and forgive the dangling participles because in your brain, it’s reading correct. Very rarely do we ever approach our own work as a completely new reader. It’s practically impossible to do.

Does that mean we shouldn’t edit? Fuck no. Unless you’re incredibly rich and can afford an editor to take your first draft to your final over the course of 9 rewrites. And if you are that author, why the hell are you reading this blog? This is for the poor, struggling authors who are trying to procrastinate their own editing by reading my blog. Not for big money-bag writers who bang out twenty political spy thrillers a year because they have a nanny, and a cook, and a dog walker, and a personal shopper, and a house cleaner…

Where were we—ah yes, self-editing. Here are some of the biggest tips that have helped me produce a much better final version (before I send it in to an editor for the one or two rounds I can afford).

  • Take it line by line, sentence by sentence. Is the structure sound? Does it make sense? Is it passive? Is it clear who is doing the action, who is in control of the perspective? Is there a random “pineapple” thrown in at the end of a paragraph?
  • Read it out loud. When all else fails, read it cover to cover, out loud. That’s when I find most of my mistakes. Or, if you’re not into that (or you live with people who aren’t into listening to you and by people, I mean cats) at least read aloud the passages, paragraphs and parts that feel awkward or over the top.
  • It’s not too late to kill some darlings. I have been known to cut out scenes/sentences/dialogue, in my final rounds that I knew didn’t belong but I clung to them like a freezing poor boy on the wreckage of the Titanic. Save them in a different file, but if you know in your heart it’s there to stroke your ego at your brilliant wordage but it’s not doing the story any good then show some humility and axe it.
  • Check your tense, check your POV, be consistent in those little things because they make a HUGE difference on whether or not your reader can follow the story and isn’t frustrated trying to do so.
  • Print it out. You can get a good deal at local or national printing companies (my local FedEx cashier knows me and it is so heartening every time she asks “new book?” and hands me the brown box of hope). Double sided, nothing fancy, cheapest version possible will still only set you back about $30 for a 250 page book. You will see things in ink that you cannot see on the screen, guaranteed.
  • Get a Beta reader or twelve. Yeah, it’s not really self-editing, but it’s part of the process that will help bring new eyes to your work. And usually it’s a low cost way to get a ‘real readers’ perspective on your work.

All right, that’s all I’ve got. Good luck out there. Don’t think this bullet list will take the place of a good professional round of editing, but it should help in your process. And maybe it can even help turn your first drafts into better drafts.

Flash Fiction: A Raccoon, A Traffic Jam, and Another Call for Submissions

Mornin’

As promised, I’ve thrown together a couple of flash fiction pieces that I’ll be running in the next couple of weeks. Before we get into the fantasy, I want to give you a reminder that submissions are still be accepted for The Beautiful Stuff’s 2022 Anthology, “A Beautiful Twist”. Here are the details (the short version for folks like me with a minor attention span)

  • Dates: January 28th to September 16th
  • Winners notified September 19th 2022
  • Publication Date: TBA Early November
  • Submission guidelines: Short stories (2000-5000 words), Flash Fiction (200-1000 words), Poetry (up to 5 poems allowed per submission), novel excerpts (up to 3000 words), Personal Essays (up to 2000 words). Non fiction, fiction, speculative fic, western, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica, historical, hysterical, time jumping primates, talking frogs, brains in jars, and ANY combination thereof. Submissions translated to English are preferred. Contest is open to domestic and international writers but awards will be paid in US dollars. Please submit your work as an attachment to your email which will be a lovely cover letter about you (name, email, your submission title, brief bio). Email subject line should read BEAUTIFUL TWIST SUBMISSION_name. The submission file (please use .doc, .docx, or another Word friendly format) should be the title of your submission and your last name i.e. “Merry Krampus-Reichert”
  • Top 3 submissions will earn prizes as follows: 1st–$30, 2nd–$20, 3rd–$10 paid via PayPal or Venmo (or check if need be). Runners up will be published in the anthology with a chance to compete in the Colorado Book Awards.
  • You may submit in multiple formats, multiple times (ie poems and flash, or novel excerpt and essay) but each submission must be in a separate email.
  • PLEASE DO NOT submit anything that has been previously published or that you no longer own the rights to. Simultaneous submissions are absolutely fine but LET ME KNOW if your work gets accepted elsewhere as soon as possible.
  • Prohibited subject matter includes: overtly violent or gruesome content that does not further the story, non consensual sexual acts, racist/homophobic/misogynistic/hate filled writing, violent or hurtful actions against children or animals, and anything that judges, stereotypes, or seeks to harm another human being based on their human being-ness.

Whew! Send in your stuff. I’m excited to read it. And now this:

FLASH 1: Raccoons and Moving On

“This is your fault.”

“Mine? How is this even remotely my fault?”

“You wanted to have the dinner party in that stupid farm to table place. With a stupid glamping theme. In the stupid middle of a stupid field!”

“Why is everything I do stupid?” he fired back. She glared over the dinner napkin pressed to her cheek and pulled away the bloodied cloth to show him, once again, the angry gashes that had undone the beauty of her Botox.

“This for one!” She put the cloth back on the wound and crossed her other arm in front of her low cut dress. The ER was always busy this time of the week, but she’d never had to wait for anything, and especially not with the general public, so it seemed even worse.

“I mean—the food wasn’t bad. The whole evening could have been worse.”

“Worse? Mark? Really? How could it possibly have been worse? A goddamn raccoon tried to take my face off!”

“You tried to pet it!”

“I was trying to scoot it out of the tent! Brought in by your ‘not bad food’ buffet!”

“Well, I mean, it was out in the woods. So technically, it was just like having a neighbor come over for dinner.”

“You’re a goddamn idiot.”

Mark laughed. He laughed so hard he doubled over. Hooting until tears came to his eyes.

“Wha—why are you laughing?”

“Just—the way your face looked when that little guy came at you! Eyes wide and—” he gasped for air between chuckles, “and shrieking like a banshee.”

“I want a divorce,” she yelled.

“I know you do. That’s why I planned the evening! To try and start to mend things.” At this he stopped laughing. “But I realized I can’t mend the past. I can only look at the future.”

She grumbled. “What does that mean anyway?”

“I’ve been seeing someone.”

“What?”

“She’s a park ranger, actually. The one that recommended the venue?”

“Are you out of your goddamn mind?”

“I probably won’t be once the papers get signed. Look, here’s your ride.” She failed to even notice as the nurse came to her with a wheelchair and an exasperated look.

“The doctor can see you now, Mrs. Sinclair.”

“Oh, it’s just Ms.” Mark corrected before helping to move his near catatonic wife, soon to be ex-wife, into the dingy wheelchair and watched it disappear with a squeaking tirade down the hall.

FLASH 2: The Longest Light

At first he didn’t notice when the light hadn’t changed. Louis could always find an excuse to look at his phone, play a quick game of Candy Crush, or text that hot little thing from accounting. He just figured it was a long light.

But it turned into an excruciatingly long light. Three games in and an unanswered tawdry text about how he’d like to ‘spread sheet’ with her, he finally looked up and found that the light had not changed. In fact, nothing had changed. Louis put down his phone and looked over at the driver in the lane next to him. Sipping her coffee. He watched for a good thirty seconds. Still sipping. He looked up towards the person in front of him.

The guy had been reaching into his back seat, not moving since they’d stopped.

“What the—“? Louis paused to adjust his radio, but the same note was still playing. The same long C. Echoing through frozen airwaves. Louis turned off the stereo and got out. That’s when the light would change right. Isn’t that how it always worked? But it remained, stuck on red.

The street was lit in the garish tone of a sun that had seemed to stop. No shadows moved. No sounds of tires against asphalt. No wind blew. He looked up into the sky and caught a strange dark shape. He thought it was a plane, tiny and glacially moving across the sky. But it wasn’t moving.

And it wasn’t a plane. Louis closed his door and looked closer at the pigeon, suspended in mid-air. His heart hammered against his chest, the only beat in the city. He looked at the woman in the car next to him, the drivers in the opposite lanes. Everyone, like some strange flash mob in reverse, was holding perfectly still.

“Hey!” Louis yelled, angry in his fear. “Hey, what’s the big deal! Move your car!” He jogged up to the first car in the lane. A woman, bags beneath her eyes, white knuckling the steering wheel and glazed over stare into the quiet nothing. In the backseat, a toddler, with his face red and sweaty mouth open in a silent and unending scream, clutching an empty applesauce packet in one hand and a sodden blankie in the other.

“What’s the big idea? What is this?” He pounded on her window with a force that have been loud enough to wake the dead. It did not wake her. Louis went from car to car, with the same method and the exact same reaction. Nothing moved.

The world was frozen in time and he was the only one outside the loop. Louis dove back into his car and grabbed his phone. Candy Crush was now dormant, he tried tapping on his messages but nothing budged. As if the moment his hands put it down, it too became frozen. A cold shiver shot up Louis’ spine and he spun in a circle.

“Knock it off! Whatever this is! It’s not funny anymore!” When the strangled universe refused to reply Louis took off down the street, looking for any sign of life, in a world without.

It would be the longest thirty years of his life.

Flash Fic: Weekly Prompt

Hello writers and readers.

Today, I’m stepping out of my normal routine of poetry and serial romancing to bring you a couple of exercises on writing flash fiction and some prompts to help get you started. (Think 1-800 word count, 1000 tops)

Now, I’ve talked in length about the fine art of flash fiction and what its doing in the field of literary wonder these days. Many a journal, website, and anthology are accepting these tiny powerhouses of storytelling as submissions. Their growing popularity, I believe, has to do with our shortened attention spans as well as our lack of free time. (Well, I mean we’d have more free time if we weren’t captivated by tiny screens most of our waking hours, but that’s a soap box for a different day).

A flash fic piece will tell the reader a whole story in a few hundred words and usually pack some kind of emotional, suspenseful, or humorous punch (‘humorous punch’ feels strange to write. Like slapstick?). For more on the logistics and down and dirty of them here’s a great blog on the topic… https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2020/08/06/the-beautiful-writers-workshop-26-flashing-for-fun-and-profit/

So, if you are interested in trying it out, or if you’re an ‘old hat’ in the flash arena, I’m offering up some fun prompts to work with this week, to help boost your submission pool and get you used to the art of brevity. If you find one you like, let me know and I’ll give it a shout out and a bump on the site (AHEM–you could also submit it to my Anthology due out at the end of the year: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2022/01/27/call-for-submissions-2022-anthology-a-beautiful-twist/

I will also post one of mine next week to show solidarity for all of our creative endeavors. You aren’t in this alone, after all. OK–here’s a bullet list because I know how much we like that kind of thing.

  • A man/woman/nonbinary person goes about their normal day, not realizing that they died three years ago.
  • A dog comes back to its owner after a rousing game of fetch, but instead of the ball, it’s carrying a human skull.
  • A dinner party, a raccoon, an affair (don’t ask me, it’s your job to make it work)
  • A parent’s first night in an empty nest
  • Time freezes at a traffic light, for everyone but the man in the third car
  • After kissing a stranger at a party, a woman finds she can no longer lie
  • Maybe it’s puberty, maybe they’re a werewolf
  • A demon finds a portal out of hell, but it empties into the ball pit at a fast-food playplace.
  • A man who can smell colors. And he’s a chef.
  • A lake, a toad, the agony of getting what you ask for

Okay–get writing. Go make something beautiful and strange.

Poetry 3-31-22

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The Tapeze Artist

My heart swings
in wild arcs over canyons
of the unknown

Hang on, white knuckles
to the slippery bar
and tattered rope
that threatens to drop you
one way or another

Down into the breaking of hearts
unmendable
succulent burn of muscle
and fiber
fighting to hold on
to the imperfect known
and not fall into the
unseeable future.

Have I so little faith
in the universe’s plan?
is my human failing
to fear so strong?
when the only worse case
is just death
in itself only a doorway
to another journey
another dark canyon
another unknown

Cling tightly
white knuckles
until the shaking
trembles unbearable
and you have no other recourse
than to
let go.





Spring Cleaning and The Writer’s Mind

Sometimes, at the beginning of the year when I’m trying to plan out my blog posts, I will randomly insert a brainstormed title with no idea where it will lead. The above is a case in point. I love the concept of brainstorming but it often makes me look back at past Sarah with a scowl (‘whatdafuq does spring cleaning have to do with the writer’s mind, Sarah? Whatwereyouthinking?)

So now, I’m going to attempt to free-style on the topic of “Spring Cleaning”.

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To be fair to past Sarah, she knew this blog would come around the time of the spring equinox which is a brilliant time to clean out homes, old clothes, ancient ideas…anything that’s not serving you, from your too-tight college jeans to the ideal that says you still should fit into those. Throw that baggage out.

At first I considered telling you to do the very practical, literal cleaning out of your laptop, files, and paperwork. Grouping together like-minded topics, removing old or already published notes that are no longer needed, and generally getting yourself a clean slate for the year ahead. But as I started to look through my own little chaos, the temper of the idea changed.

No one’s desk is probably more a mess than mine. It looks fairly ordered but the truth is, it’s a jumble of post-its, three-word ‘grand ideas’ scribbled in crayon on lunch napkins or old receipts, and seven different rewrites of the same novel that I have absolutely no reason to still hang on to. I have letters from old high school friends, squirmy notes about boys we liked and the bittersweet ones after our subsequent heartbreaks. I’ve got writing notes from conferences, random journals of poetry, thank you cards with mismatched envelopes, and the last letter my grandmother Emma sent me before she passed away. I’ve got pictures of the two friends I lost after high school and the tiny pamphlets from their funeral services. I have the fuel receipt from my first solo flight. And a certificate from my training as an early childhood educator.

I have my winning poetry from 8th grade Young Writers competitions, and the short story that lost magnificently about star crossed lovers on either side of the Berlin Wall (fuck yeah, I’m that old). And its jumbled and slung into folders like a field of wildflowers, contained in manila.

Nothing is in order, but everything has its place.

Perhaps I should go through. Let go of some of this history. Let go of the girl I used to be and the dreams she used to dream. I should stop looking to the past and wondering what I could have done, or been. How brightly I used to burn, when I was young and half-wild. Maybe we should all, let go. Clean out the things in our life that no longer look like our current state.

And in some ways, I suppose it is good. Sometimes we use these things to look back, to regret or be stuck in a cycle of ‘what if’…in some ways that can hold us back. But somethings also remind us of who we are. Sounds silly but–if you’re anything like me, and you’ve spent most of your life, trying to fit into boxes, shrink down, be smaller, be ‘easier’ to love, or be what you think people want…it can get so easy to become lost.

So maybe you read your grandma’s last letter. And your best friend’s note about her no good boyfriend, or that first draft you kept for no reason, and you let them all take you back for a moment. To the person you were, the person who was just a bit more trusting. A bit more bright. Before the world sanded down your edges and made you behave. Maybe you remember that these are pieces of you that are still in there. That cannot be fully swept away.

That you are still, even in small ways, young and half-wild.

Maybe I’ll toss the other six drafts. Maybe I’ll get rid of any napkins and three-word ideas that I can’t connect to. Maybe I’ll donate the books I know I won’t read, and let go of the thank you notes with no matching envelopes.

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But I’ll keep everything else that makes up the story of me. So on days when I feel like I belong too much to the world and the other people around me, I can return to that girl, that wildling burning bright, and remember who I am. The girl who’s been a poet since she was 12. The girl who believed love could tear down walls on a grand, societal level. The girl who misses her friends, who promised to fill her days with the life they never got to finish. The girl who refused to shrink.

Clean up your space, but leave the layers of your soul intact. They are the story of you, and no one else can tell that story.

Projects In The Works

Morning, readers. I didn’t get a chance to write a blog last week, but some things are coming up you might want to know about.

First–Saturn Rising: Episode #2 should be running Monday the 28th, and you can find the link to the first episode here:

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/ff4ba549-f715-4fa8-b6f0-a6bc3b9727af/saturn-rising

Second– The Beautiful Stuff 2022 Anthology “A Beautiful Twist” is still open for submissions. I have a long submission period and you can find the details about the submission here:

So far I’ve gotten some amazing poetry, a few great flash fic pieces, and one short story. There will be plenty of room so if you’re hesitating, don’t.

FInally–I am writing my little heart out on a new project with co-author Kerrie Flanagan, that will be due out this summer and will include (hopefully) some book signings at some totally awesome 80’s venues. The romantic comedy is due out in June but I will keep you updated!

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Well, there’s a catch up. I hope you’re able to enjoy the podcast and are looking forward to the new novel as much as I am looking forward to getting it out into the world. Take care and don’t forget to send me your submissions for this year’s anthology!

Flash Fiction 1-3-22

I’m not sure what to say about this one. Sometimes characters show up in our peripheral. Sometimes we let them pass by like shadows. Sometimes they are too familiar more like ghostly reflections than shadows and we turn to look. Sometimes they tell us a story we didn’t know was in us. Sometimes…it’s scary…too close…even so, horrifically beautiful.

Seconds 

(formerly: The World Seems Too Long a Place to Live)


“I wish it were shorter,” she said. I looked up from my phone, standing behind her in the ticket line.

“It won’t take long,” I dismissed, going back to the news.

“It’s already too long,” she said. 

She stared through the people shuffling ahead of us with her glass blue eyes, stuck in the chain rope chute, before she startled towards the whispering red streaks of an approaching train, through a doorway, just beyond our queue. It looked like a candy cane twirling, fast and breathless.

The strange hunger of knowing filled her throat and she swallowed.

“I wanna go now,” she said. I took in a breath to ask what she meant. . .

Moments seem slow, sometimes. Like the glacial pace of my eyes following her dropped bag and her, silhouetted form in the sunlight, before she disappeared; in between the red streaks of a train that could not stop. 

But it was only seconds. One-one-thousand. Two-one-thousand. Three-one-thousand. 
Gone.

Poetry 2-24-22

Good morning. I had planned a vibrant book review. But some weeks the flow of energy is a low and staggered and we have to return to center ourselves. This week, it’s all about finding my solid ground again, being my own safe space, and casting away the self doubt that has saturated my soul.

How often are we paralyzed by the expectations we put on ourselves? By what we want to be for others, or because of others. How often are we overcome with despair when we fail to meet those expectations, to garner that acceptance, to find that love?

Here is what I know to be true–

Yours is the only heart you will have for your whole life time. From its very first beat. Until its last.

Lovers, spouses, friends, parents, even children will come and go in your life, in the natural waxing and waning of time and experience. But your heart, your soul, your presence is the only one you get to spend the entire journey with. So take care of your vessel…from the engine, to the machinery, the fuel and the fire. Take care of you. Love you. Believe in you.

And now, this.

Photo by Abdullah Ghatasheh on Pexels.com
Becoming

Was there ever such a silence as this?
sun warmed skin and the echo of
small chirping voices
amongst the barking magpie and
reverberation of holy time
etched into the sides of mountains
silent, pine needle prayer

I’ve been a complacent wanderer
following the strongest flow
eyes on wayward trails
branching
never forward, exactly
but they tempt places I yearn
to wander

and it feels
like losing my ground
or finding it.

It’s in the din of life
the marked and constant boxes
that we lose our true course
give away our feet on earth
and forget 
silent places to find
ourselves.

I miss these mountains
and cultivating space between
what I dreamed of becoming and
what I’ve become.

What have I become?

Heat Index: What Spicy Pepper is Your Novel?

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Hands down, one of the dumbest blog titles I’ve ever come up with. But what are you going to do? We all have seasons of creativity in our lives, and sometimes I’m in the winter of title production. Today is that sometime. On to the point. What is a Heat Index?

Great question! Well, if you don’t write/sell/promote romance, you probably don’t need to worry about it, but as it’s the month of ‘love’ or whatever made-up hallmark holiday craze February represents to you, I thought I at least owed ONE blog about passion, romance, and how to make sure the right readers for your work find you.

Heat Index is, as in spicy peppers, a way to grade the level of sexual interaction (description of and frequency) in your books. Now, romance has a wide and varying range of heat levels. This blog will help you understand where yours falls, where you might need to edit to keep it in a certain level, and how and who to market it to based on it’s score.

Below is the breakdown of Heat Index. Keep in mind, this may vary from publisher to publisher, but in general the levels correspond pretty closely.

  1. “Wholesome”, Sweet” or “Clean” (I’m not a fan of either of these terms as it denotes that anything outside of this classification suggests that sex is dirty or nasty–and those are ‘bad’?) These are sometimes called ‘inspirational’ romances, and often fall into Christian Romance sub genres. They might have kissing, holding, etc, but rarely is a bodily fluid exchanged and the romance is built heavier in the emotional/ spiritual attachment.
  2. “Sweet”, “Closed Door”, “Off The Page”, “Gentle”, or “Quiet”— This level of heat says that there is sex in your novel, but it happens without the reader being included. The characters may kiss, fondle, make out, and get excited physically but they will shut you (the reader) out in the hall while they get down to business. More mainstream women’s fic will employ this index more often, and there’s something to be said for leaving a few things to the imagination of the reader. I’m not sure about the terms “gentle” or “quiet”–as we don’t know what’s going on behind that door. Ha. Sorry.
  3. “Sensual”, “Sex on Page” and “Minimal Description”–This level the readers definitely know that sex happened, as it’s written down, but not poured over. Minimal description can mean an author uses euphemistic language, very basic terms and ideas, or even is more mechanical in description. They sort of beat about the bush, without getting into it. Ugh, sorry, I had to. Nobody else laughing their ass off, just me? Ok.
  4. “Sexy”, “Sex on Page” and “Explicit” also “Erotica”–In other words, if you’re at your kids karate/dance/hockey/ soccer practice, it would be wise to not let anyone read over your shoulder. These scenes get as close as any good OB/GYN or proctologist might (but in a less clinical way). Sometimes the lines between 3 and 4 are more blurred. My rule of thumb, is that if it makes me blush, feel warm all over, and a bit flustered after reading it (or writing it), it’s probably a level 4. What constitutes “Sexy” might be more based on the female main character’s exploration of fantasy. “Erotica”, has much more to do with the physical aspects of romance and can be broken down by ‘special interest’ (ie bondage, monogamous menage, reverse harem etc.). In both cases, these are not “letters to playboy” books, even with more descriptive love scenes, they still have emotional attachment and a satisfying (nearly said ‘happy’) ending.

Well, there you have it. If you write romance, and especially if you’re looking to query your manuscript, it helps to know what you’re selling and if the publisher is a good match. If you just like reading romance, look for these keywords (often in online descriptions and sometimes on jacket covers) to make sure you’re getting the romantic endorphin hit you crave most.

Happy Reading!

“Saturn Rising” Coming to Audiocast

Hello readers. Today is a special blog!!

In an unexpected turn of events, my audiocast “Saturn Rising” from the amazingly talented Ngano Press Studios Ngano Press Studios will be released sooner than announced. The series will air the third Friday of every month (starting February 18th) for the next 5 months. M

y five-part series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of the brave but cranky Captain Eularia Longfellow and her mangy crew of misfits as they try to outrun both Saturn’s bloodthirsty Royal family, and the fate of their own humanity.

You can download the podcast from Ngano Press Studio’s website and its compatible with most apps for your phone, tablet, and other devices. Remember, it not only will be entertaining and an escape from your daily drudgery, but you’ll be supporting a local business that is doing amazing work and a local artist, who has two kids soon to be in college. The episodes will run about 30 minutes, and I’d love to host a Q & A session if anyone is interested. Maybe we could even do it at a pub. More details on that to come. Hit me up with any questions about it or how to get your ears on it.

Thanks! And spread the word!

Poetry 2-3-2022

It’s been awhile since I regaled you with a little verse. Okay, to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever ‘regaled’ anyone with anything I’ve written. But here’s a poem I scribbled down and now it’s part yours.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com
Misjudged

have you ever
thought you knew everything
about a human heart
only to find out,
in clips and phrases
the everyday
exchange of words,
those priceless commodities,
that you didn’t, in fact, 
like them at all?

With every volley of
thought-provoking ideals
and self-doubting forays 
trying to figure out the complexities
of life
and love
and sex
that every one of those micro chasms of worlds
in their lit-up brains
from the sadness to the fury
the senseless damage survived,
the deep, erotic bites hungered after
and the sweet forgiveness
you discover,

layer by layer

that you didn’t like them

not at all.

No—in all,

and all along,

you, in fact,

loved them.

Call For Submissions 2022 Anthology: “A Beautiful Twist”

Good morning, readers and writers. I can’t believe we’re already one trip around the sun from last year’s submissions call! The previous years have resulted in two wonderful poetry anthologies with a variety of contributors across the globe. This year, I’m changing things up.

The theme for this year is “A Beautiful Twist”. I will be looking for work that surprises and delights, causes a reader to pause and do a double take if you will. For instance, some of my own work will be myths retold in modern times (what if Bacchus was a recovering alcoholic, or Snow White was a dominatrix?) For poetry, think about a split between how it begins and how it ends. You start out thinking its about love but turns out to be about laundry. Twist a fairytale, turn over old paradigms and genre expectations, dust off any speculative fiction because that’s a goldmine for twists. Surprise me. Surprise yourself. Give yourself freedom to dabble in the ridiculous.

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Below you’ll find the details for the anthology, submission guidelines, and publishing dates. Please follow the guidelines. They exist for a reason…mostly to make sure I don’t pull my hair out whilst trying to read and format them. You are always more than welcome to contact me via this website with questions (Please use subject line: QUESTION ANTHOLOGY 2022). Some changes this year will include the length and type of content I’m accepting, and a monetary prize for the top three entries, as well as publication. Good skill to all of the writers out there, newbies and old hats.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Dates: Submission will open January 28th and will run until September 16th
  • Winners will be notified September 19th 2022
  • Publication Date: TBA Early November
  • Submission guidelines: The Beautiful Stuff will be accepting, short stories (2000-5000 words), Flash Fiction (200-1000 words), Poetry (up to 5 poems allowed per submission), novel excerpts (up to 3000 words), Personal Essays (up to 2000 words) all centered around the theme. I’m pretty lenient as far as genre. I will accept non fiction, fiction, speculative fic, western, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica, historical, hysterical, time jumping primates, talking frogs, brains in jars, and ANY combination thereof. Submissions translated to English are preferred. Contest is open to domestic and international writers but awards will be paid in US dollars. Please submit your work as an attachment to your email which will be a lovely cover letter about you (name, email, job, what you write, what you love to do, your submission’s title, and the secret of life–haha, just kidding we all know its 42). Email subject line should read BEAUTIFUL TWIST SUBMISSION_name (not just ‘name’–use your name). The submission file (please use .doc, .docx, or another Word friendly format) should be the title of your submission and your last name i.e. “Merry Krampus-Reichert”
  • Top 3 submissions will earn prizes as follows: 1st–$30, 2nd–$20, 3rd–$10 paid via PayPal or Venmo (or check if need be). Runners up will be published in the anthology with a chance to compete in the Colorado Book Awards.
  • You may submit in multiple formats, multiple times (ie poems and flash, or novel excerpt and essay) but each submission must be in a separate email. You can copy and paste your cover letter…I’m not going to make you rewrite that thing, they’re a pain in the ass.
  • PLEASE DO NOT submit anything that has been previously published or that you no longer own the rights to. I can’t even begin to process the legalities, so just don’t. Don’t double dip. Simultaneous submissions are absolutely fine but LET ME KNOW if your work gets accepted elsewhere as soon as possible.
  • Prohibited subject matter includes: overtly violent or gruesome content that does not further the story, non consensual sexual acts, racist/homophobic/misogynistic/hate filled writing, violent or hurtful actions against children or animals, and anything that judges, stereotypes, or seeks to harm another human being based on their human being-ness. I’m cool with erotica done tastefully and along the lines of the theme. I’m also cool with expletives if they fit the character and scene and you’re not just using them like a 7th grade boy to look cool. Cool?

Well, that’s it! Start writing! Hopefully this will provide you the experience and drive to get some submitting done. Let me know if you have any questions. I will contact you to let you know your submission has been received and as we get near to September 16th I will keep you in the loop about your submission’s place in the anthology.

I’m so flippin’ excited to read your stuff. Truly. Don’t leave me hanging.

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Diversity in Fiction: Crafting Characters Respectfully

I’m not one to go seeking out hot-button issues, but the truth is when we don’t address underlying, systemic problems of all the ‘isms’ in our culture (from government programs, to housing applications, to writing fiction–) they continue to hold power over and harm other human beings. So, I’m discussing today how we, as writers, can be not only sensitive to the characters we create but the effects of their existence on our world. After all, stereotypes exist because we fail to see them in all the subtle ways they permeate our lives. As ethical and compassionate people, we should work towards burning down those untruths as much as possible, even in our own work.

I’m not going to stand on a soap box and preach without starting with myself. I’ve probably, in my ignorant and un-learned past, created characters that simplified the complexities of a human into certain traits. I’ve tried not to. I tried to craft my characters as strong, independent and powerful, more tuned to their personalities than their physical traits. But there were still subtle things, I wasn’t even aware of at the time, that filtered from my limited white experience. As I look into rewriting this character, I am constantly questioning how I can do better.

We all should. We owe it to the character, to the reader (and to the world) to examine our writing and go forward with an eye to our own hidden (and not so hidden) biases or ideas.

The best advice I can give you is to strip yourself of any cloak of magnanimous “equality”. Start by reading some real, hard to stomach, but necessary soul-exploring books on the complexities of race and gender equality, the reason systemic problems exist, and how we can best eradicate them. Talk to people from every background, attend classes, lectures, and forums, open discussions of others’ experiences. Do it with an open heart, and a willingness to accept your part in the system. Have the dedication to do something about it.

When we are invested in writing characters different from ourselves (race, gender, religion, sexuality, age etc) one of the best things we can do is RESEARCH. In the expansiveness of the Internet, so much good information, written by diverse voices, can be found. The ones most important (and really the only viable ones) are those written in their own voice, about their own experience.

I also encourage you to talk to as many other people of all walks of life as you can. (And not just to research for your work…do it for the benefit of your humanity and compassion.) While I DO NOT advocate for you turning your ‘one black friend’ into your go-to for all questions about a diverse, varied and culturally rich part of our world (it’s not their job or duty to educate you), don’t shy away from respectful and honest conversations that come up, especially when they happen from immersing yourself in different situations and events from a standpoint of open mindedness and learning.

Above all, when you are writing diverse characters DON’T, for the love of god, assume that by describing their skin color/religion/orientation that you’ve described their character in total. DON’T stereotype them. DON’T include diverse characters just for the sake of checking off a box.

DO make them unique to their upbringing, their experience, and their situation. DO describe all of your characters equally and in rich and expansive ways.

I’ve always believed that good storytelling is universal. And in our connected and dynamic world, it would be a shame to only write one kind of person. But care for your characters and the people they may or may not represent. Here are some good resources that may help:

Good luck and don’t be afraid. Just be respectful, compassionate, and educated.

Begin Again

So here we are, at the precipice of a new year and probably, in some part, still reeling from the last two. I recall, vaguely, that at this time last year I was filled with hope that things were about to get better. Then, events in the first week of the year reminded me that the calendar rolling over didn’t wipe the slate clean on the world’s troubles. It’s just a date. Not a miracle.

The only comfort I had, and still have, as we again sit at the top of 2022, is that I have control over at least one thing in the world, and that’s how I live in it. So no matter where you are, in physical or mental space, take an opportunity to day to think about what you would do if you could begin again. The date may be arbitrary, but the idea is sound.

Everything you’ve lived through up to this point has prepared you for the challenges ahead. Everything that you’ve seen, learned, failed at, succeeded at, has built in you a resilience for the journey ahead. So while we shouldn’t dwell on our pasts (whether it be to regret–terrible thing, or to relive glory days–also unhelpful) we should remember the value they have given us. Every experience, hardship, joy, failure, and triumph has added to your soul-resume and will give you what you need for this next year. I believe that whatever it is you set your sights on, whether its finishing a book, starting a new job, getting out of an abusive relationship, or giving yourself more grace, you will find success. But don’t just throw vague intentions out. Make a map.

Now how detailed you want to get depends on your level of focus, your own acknowledgement for order, and what works for you. I like to start with a general goal list, break it down by quarter, month, and week, and hang it up where I can see it. So when I find myself caught up in pitbull puppy videos, its looming over me, reminding me to focus.

That’s a shit-ton of bullets…*sigh*

At the beginning of the year, it looks daunting. So I have to remind myself, even if it’s on paper, it’s still fluid. Just because it’s all there, listed out, doesn’t mean it all gets done today. Like any journey, goals are a series of steps, one after another.

This year, I’ll be trying a few different things, and I only squawk about them here as a measure of accountability.

In the spring (March-ish) I’ll be releasing my Western Romance Series and planning some tour dates in my home state of Wyoming to promote it. This will include book signings, readings, and Q and A sessions. I’m aspiring to submit short stories, poetry, and flash fiction to at least 100 different publications (aiming for 100 rejections but my hope is they aren’t ALL rejected). In May, I’m hoping to finish up a collaboration with a local press for my Sci/Fi novella “Saturn Rising”. The blog will continue with weekly writing advice, poetry, guest blogs, and a special series on local charities, the work they’re doing, and how we can help keep them running. This year’s Anthology is not yet themed but I’m shifting over to include short stories, essays, and excerpts. Stay tuned for more details. This year, winning entries will be published and receive a monetary prize.

I’ve got my first co-authoring project in the works (a fun romp and homage to my love of 80’s pop culture) and will be working on my next series (I’m getting all Urban fantasy this time).

Outside of writing, I’ll be teaching a few more classes, continue advancing towards my next degree (Sensei Sarah has a nice ring to it), reading more, I’ll climb a few more 14ers, and work this old body into more flexibility through yoga. It all feels like a lot, but days are made of minutes and you can do a lot in those minutes….once you choose to begin.

Good luck out there. Come back and visit to keep updated on the anthology submissions and so we can check in with each other on our new starts. Above all, let’s just be better people this year. The best versions of ourselves we can be.

Lessons From The Year

It was a goal heavy year. I talked briefly a few weeks ago about how to set up your own yearly goals in a manageable way, but today I want to talk about you. That’s right…not some bullet list on a webpage or a chart of tick-them-off boxes. I want to talk about the beautiful human on the other side of the screen. Stop looking over your shoulder, it’s you. I mean you.

Now maybe I know you, personally. Maybe we’ve never met. The point is, I think you’re amazing. You may not believe me. It’s okay. I’ve talked A LOT about not believing everything you read…and my words are no different. So allow me to offer proof.

This year has been tough. Hell, the last two have been a raging dumpster fire…for nearly everyone who wasn’t making a personal rocket ship to go play Spaceman Spiff while countless other humans suffered in poverty, starvation, and lack of medical care on the Earth. No wonder they were so anxious to leave for ten minutes and show how awesome it is to have money… but I digress…

The point I’m trying to make is that you’ve survived 100% of all your worst days.

A moment of silence for 2021...

At the start of a new year we have a tendency to look back (sometimes like Indian Jones on the destructive explosions of warplanes and tanks going over cliffs, shaking on torn knees, dirty, bent, beat to hell, and wondering how we survived, still clinging to our favorite hats) and worry that the next year will only be worse—Nazis, aliens…Shia LaBeouf—it could get a lot worse.

But it could get a whole lot better.

And we have some say in that. Now, we don’t always have a say in the bigger things of the world. I’ll never change the inequality of women or be able to change the mind of every little girl who’s been told, (like her mother and her mother before her…and so on) that being skinny is the height of desirability and beauty.

Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

But I can shift the way I speak around my daughters. I can shift the way I talk to my friends (and speak up for them when they cannot speak well of themselves). I can shift the way I talk to myself.

I can’t fight capitalism. But I can support companies that  pay their workers a living wage. I can’t change lobbyists, or billionaires, or any number of corrupt, societal ruining forces. But I can lend a helping hand. I can volunteer. I can protest. I can stand up and use my voice, I can vote…

When we look at the battles ahead of us in this new year, let us pick ones we can charge into wisely. And please, for the love of mental health, let us start with the ones in our own heads.

The direction of your life, the ability to lift yourself above old and destructive habits has everything to do with how you speak to yourself. Your voice is the only one in your head 24/7. Your body is the only one you live in. Your voice, your mind, your heart, your body—every single one of those things is beautiful. Every one of them is enough. And they (read: you) deserve to be taken care of, loved, and respected.

So when we look into this new year, I only ask that you change one thing.

I want you to change how you talk to yourself. Be bigger than what the world wants you to be. Take up space and use that space to spread compassion and acceptance. Be outspoken with your understanding, your need for justice, and most of all, be outspoken with love.

Life is short. This could be the first year of a long and beautiful rest-of-your-life.

It could be your last year on Earth.

You simply do not know, so spend it with your heart and passions in mind. Draw and hold boundaries where they need to be and do not apologize for cutting out the people who are hurtful or refuse to acknowledge that you are enough. Speak well of yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Accept every soul-bump as part of being beautifully human. Don’t be cruel, but take no bullshit.

We humans–we’re a beautiful mess. Falling in and out of love, drunk on passion and enthusiasm one minute, and stumbling into the gutter of disappointment the next. I say, just do your best, little human. Until you know better, then do the better. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. But don’t give away your light and energy to people who don’t appreciate and return it.

It’s just that simple. And just that complex. It’s just. that. human.

Stay safe until the new year and beyond.

Reflections on Goal Setting

When I first took a class on goal planning for writers last year, the intention was to create an environment and a year where I carved out space for my writing as I would a career. Now, as we reach the end of another year (yeah, I hate to tell you, but its only a few hours away) I wanted to take the time to look back and let you know what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do better next time. Not so much a bragging post, this is more to offer you ideas of your own on how to pursue your writing career without feeling too overwhelmed.

Every great endeavor seems impossible while you’re standing at the base of it, wondering how best to begin. But journeys are not made in great leaps and bounds, they are made by singular footfalls, one in front of another. Maybe your goal is to finish your novel, memoir, poetry book, cookbook and have it ready for publication by December next year. That’s a huge leap when you’re staring at an empty page.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a planner when it comes to the creative process of my writing. I don’t outline in detail, I don’t diagram, and I sure as hell don’t employ computer programs to chart the course of my books…but–being the little virgo-seque, organizational lovin’ nerd I am, I do like a set plan for how I get from blank page to finished book.

So rather than try to eat this whole goal at once, try taking little bites. I realize it seems over simplified, but what what worked best for me was breaking down my goals by first naming the end result I wanted, then thinking about the benchmarks I needed to meet every three months to make it happen. Then I broke it down further, to what I needed to do every month to meet those benchmarks, and finally what I needed to do every week so that it was manageable within my life.

In example, I wanted to submit at least 55 pieces of work this year. That meant that every month I needed 4 to 5 submissions, or one + a week. It’s hard to think of 55 poems out for submission all at once. I don’t think I would have been able to feel capable. But one submission, every week was something I couldn’t find an excuse not to do.

I wanted to finish editng three novels and have them ready for publication. I didn’t try to cram them all into a month. I broke it down to 3-6 chapters a week, which gave me about four rounds of in-depth editing for each, including a Beta reading round.

Having defined goals in mind is essential, allowing yourself room to wiggle when life gets complicated (because life always does) is just as important. That’s why at every quarter, in my planner, I would write down a day to reassess. What was working? What wasn’t? What could I let go of? What was I ahead on? It helped me understand my work habits and held me accountable to myself more than just a post-it of ideas on the first of January.

When life got complicated, overwhelming, and sometimes down right depressing, I gave myself room to let go of what I no longer deemed as important (I didn’t read 100 books this year, but made it through about 15–plus 12 read-throughs of my own novels). I reprioritized the schedule so that the things most important to me (family) would have first dibs on my time and used what I had left to do my best.

Even while giving yourself grace, don’t give yourself the excuse to quit. I find, no matter what the task, if I’ve set a deadline on a particular project, I will almost always finish it on time or before. Having a date to work with helps boost the sense of urgency and makes you delete social media from your phone so you aren’t wasting even one minute that you could be writing/practicing/editing/researching/submitting.

So that’s pretty much it. Because I love you (of course I do!) here’s an easy bullet list reference:

  • Set defined, obtainable goals. Pick anywhere from 1-5, but don’t go crazy. You’re only human.
  • Break them down by quarter, month, week, even day if need be.
  • Schedule rewards for meeting your goals on these timelines.
  • Allow yourself room to drop/add/readjust if something isn’t working. The journey won’t go anywhere if you’re passed out on the side of the trail with exhaustion.
  • Set defined dates for benchmarks and completion of the steps toward your goal. In other words: Give yourself ‘Due Dates’.
  • Make sure you understand your “WHY”. Why are you doing this? What are you seeking? Is it fame? Closure? Justification? The “Why” is never wrong, and you will need to return to it when things get tough.
  • Set your goals and break down the schedule you’ll need a week to two before the start of the New Year. Nobody wants to wake up New Year’s Day and try to muddle through big plans. Start thinking about it now and give yourself time to figure out what’s obtainable and most desired.

Well, I’m done talking. I appreciate you giving this blog a look over and hopefully getting the gears turning about your goals for this new year ahead. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re planning to do (this is a good exercise in accountability–if you’ve told someone you’re gonna, its an extra source of drive when you don’t feel up to it.)

Happy Writing.

Poetry 12-09-2021

What Am I Made Of

The ghosts of hearts unfairly broken 
haunt me relentlessly
my own among their wreckage
and the ones still alive 
they kick down, through the floorboards of my brain
and reverberate
in the pit of my stomach

Ghosts of lovers
who loved me too much
those I rolled eyes at, 
and turned away from, 
to crawl for miles on bloodied knees
and claw at the departing feet
of those who did not love me enough.

Ghosts of the friends I picked apart
like the vulture's beak to carrion
and become angry when they
no longer fed me

Ghosts of friends who disappeared
into the ether of life
and forgot they were 
my solid ground

I think I'm made up of ghosts 
all vapor and energy
nothingness roaming
empty of touch
devoid of breath
but heavy,
oh so heavy
in soul.

Wilderness of Soul: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2020-2021 IS HERE!!!

Great day in the morning, it’s finally time! This year’s poetry anthology “Wilderness of Soul” is now available for purchase here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09L3281ZN?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

In addition, if you are looking for a copy signed by me, you can contact me via the blog with your information. A small launch party with a few of the poets in the area will take place later this month at William Oliver’s Publick House. Bring a copy your book to have it signed by some of the authors (limited copies will be for sale at the event), enjoy a few readings, and celebrate with us. More news on that to come as details are finalized.

A percentage of the proceeds from “Wilderness of Soul” will be donated to SummitStone Health Partners, a local organization that provides help for mental health and addiction disorders. You can find out more about them here: https://www.summitstonehealth.org/

Please think about buying a copy not only as a gift to yourself and others but as a way to support the arts, poets, and the dream of sharing the common human experience. If you do get a copy, know that even a short review will help every writer in the book be recognized for their work. A few sentences and a few clicks make all the difference. Thanks in advance and Enjoy!

On Challenging Ourselves: National Novel Writing Month and Why It Matters

Good morning readers and writers. I’ve collaborated with the amazing folks at Masticadores to bring you a short series on what we affectionately call NaNoWriMo here in the States. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide, month-long challenge to help writers of all ages, genres, and abilities finish the first draft of novel (50,000 words) in one month (30 days).

Looking at those numbers, especially as a beginning writer, feels daunting, I know. But, having participated for 8 years, including 6 novels published (and soon to be published) I can tell you; it is possible.

Now listen, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve got a household, and pets, a garden, and other writerly obligations to fulfill, so I understand the idea of committing to this kind of word count can feel impossible. In this intro, I’ll break down the basics, and by the end I hope you’ll look at this challenge as something you can’t wait to start.

Breaking it down:

  1. If you want to get all math-y, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1667 words a day and you don’t have to write them consecutively. 330 in the morning, 560 on a lunch break, 780 in the evening, and you’re there. OR, 5000 over the weekend and smatterings throughout the week as you have time. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IS TO KEEP WRITING. One of the purposes of this challenge is to make you realize how much available time you actually do have to write, when you make it a priority.
  • This isn’t about the final product, i.e. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME EDITING! One of the major killers of first drafts and time is self-editing. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, don’t worry if it’s down-right shit, just put the words on paper. Editing will come later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, write first…save the editing for December.
  • Use the resources at the website: National Novel Writing Month. You can set up your own dashboard, upload ideas, picture boards, short excerpts, possible titles and even inspirational playlists for each project. On the website you’ll find links to local events, helpful tips and blogs, ways to connect with other writers (buddies!), all kinds of support and help, and badges to keep you inspired along the way. ALSO: you can log your words per day and check on your progress (honestly one of the best tools for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited to blow the curve, you know what I mean?)
  • If you don’t make the 50,000 words, there isn’t some Squid-Games pit that will open up and swallow you whole, but you will have made progress and learned a bit about your writing habits. If you do succeed in that word-count, you’ll receive free goodies to help in the next steps of editing, cover design, and self-publishing if you choose that route.
  • If you aren’t a novelist, don’t count this challenge out. At your author page/dashboard, you can select if you want to participate in the traditional challenge (50,000 words in 30 days) OR create a challenge of your own. It can be a collection of short stories or poetry. I’ve had friends and collogues use the challenge to get through final edits of their current novels or for drafting a complex series. The point is that you use the 30 days to build a habit of putting your writing first.
  • Lastly, as this blog is coming out in October, you will have plenty of time to prepare, especially if you’re a plotter/mapper. The weeks leading up to November 1st are a great time to outline your novel, create character boards, and get excited about telling your story.

For every week in November, I’ll be running one short blog (Wednesday or Saturday?) on this website to offer you inspiration for the week ahead. If you like the challenge, please support the cause by donating or picking up some sweet swag on their website. NaNoWriMo offers support and programs free for young writers to grow their skills, and for those disadvantaged or formally overlooked writers whose voices deserve to be heard.

I hope you’ll sign up. I hope you’ll find the time to invest in your book and yourself. I’m always open to any questions or thoughts on the matter, so hit me up at my website www.thebeautifulstuf.blog, through the contact page.

Thanks, and Happy Writing!