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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

Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels.com

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.

Santa, Hippy Jesus, and The Importance of Choosing Joy

It’s that time of year when we are faced with a choice that defines our humanity. The choice to either believe in the light of the season in all the forms it takes and spread our own joy to illuminate the shortened days, or the choice to be a petty and divisive jerk and shit on other people’s beliefs.

Don’t be petty and shitty, not any time, but especially not this time of year.

The world is dark enough as it is.

Be good to each other.

Psst… if you’re looking for a way to be good, especially after you read this tear-jerking post then click on this link and spread some joy:

uspsoperationsanta.com

And now, grab a tissue and enjoy…

Dear Madelyn and Delaney…

I hear there have been some questions at school and amongst your friends, about if Santa Claus is real.

There comes a time, in most kids lives, when they are taught to grow up and out of what some adults call “silly, fanciful, daydreams.” And so adults and peers will go about destroying everything that even whiffs of magic, and work hard to wipe away every ounce of stardust from the eyes of children who believe.

To this I say…Shut your mean-hearted pieholes, you wankers. (And anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their existence, called a middle schooler a wanker is probably lying. Let’s face it, middle school is not our finest hour as humans.)

I’m willing to bet that these are the same little judgmentalists that gave you sideways glances for not attending a church (particularly one of a Christian persuasion).

These are the people who will say it’s obviously impossible for a generous old guy to deliver presents to kids one night of the year, while simultaneously cherishing and accepting the “fact” that a deity impregnated a virgin and their child wiped away the entirety of sin in the world…

…uh…

nativity

If they can suspend reality and base their lives around the idea of (albeit a cool),hippy/demigod, is it such a stretch to believe in a jolly old elf that spreads the ideals of generosity and selfless giving for just one day?

I won’t touch your demigod hippy if you don’t touch my fat guy in a red suit.

jesus-santa-bff
I bet Jesus calls him St. Bro-cholas.

I refuse to lose my stardust. (As Anne Shirley would say; I refuse to be poisoned by their bitterness.)

You want to know if there is magic? If Santa is real?

Here’s what I know…

Santa is real and magic exists.

How can I be sure?

I’m here aren’t I? You’re here, yes? We’re all here.

We were sprung from the unlikely combination of a chemical lottery and dumb, cosmic luck. We went on to survive hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary death traps.

If that’s not magical, what is?

Here’s what I also know.

There are two types of people in the world.

Those that destroy joy, and those that spread it.

I KNOW that it does no harm to believe in something better, more beautiful, and magical in our lives (Hippy Demigod or Santa Claus).

I KNOW, it does no harm to fill our eyes with wonder and joy in the midst of the darkest day of the year.

I KNOW, it does no harm to hope and anticipate.

I KNOW, it does no harm to walk into these short cold days with elation in our hearts.

And I KNOW this:

what a horrible, dark and sad world it must be for those that seek to take away such light; those who disbelieve and ridicule others who hold magic in their heart.

It does harm to take someone’s joy.

It does harm to smother the fire of giving and generosity.

It does harm when we seek to oppress the light of selflessness in a world so dark.

I KNOW this; each one of us chooses what we believe.

We choose what we fill our hearts with and in a world that can be so gloomy and wretched, why would you want to fill your heart with anything that would make it even more so?

I choose to believe.

I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in magic.

I believe that there is light in the darkest of times. And I believe that the joy that radiates from hearts that hope, and love, and give, is more real than any hot air getting blown around by a bunch of self-conscious, hormonal, dying-to-fit-in middle schoolers.

Now listen: I can’t decide for you what you believe, but neither can they.

So you choose.

Embrace the joy, be the magic, and light up the dark… or reject the lot of it and wipe the stardust from your eyes.

As for me and my heart; I choose joy.

I choose to believe.

REMEMBER! CHECK OUT THIS SITE AND DO SOME GOOD THIS HOLIDAY SEASON:

uspsoperationsanta.com

red and white ceramic santa claus figurine
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

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.

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

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 Three: The Midlife Crisis

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 Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

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.

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!

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

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, 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.

Good skill, Writer.

Writing to Frighten: The Art of Suspense and Tension

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Good morning, writer. As we approach Samhain and the dark, twisty corners of the season I thought it would be a great time to bring up suspense in your writing. I’m not a horror writer and I’m not going to pretend to be just to fit in to the theme of the month but I do believe that being able to create suspense in any genre is key to keeping your readers engaged and turning the pages.

Suspense can help build emotion in your reader up to your critical moments of change (the top of your acts–the big doors–crisis of faith moments—etc.) And that helps them become more invested in your character and the outcome of the scene. Because it’s been awhile, I’m going to give you a good-ol’ bullet list. Everybody likes a bullet list. Here are some top tips to factor in while working the element of suspense into your novel/Work-In-Progress. Keep in mind, these are general so they can be applied to most genres, but within each tip, there are a hundred different directions you can go–from the benign to the macabre.

  • Tap Into Universal Fears: We all have some pretty basic fears that drive us. They are usually based in survival. Fear of death, loss of child/loved one, fear of physical pain, starvation, exposure–anything that can take away the basic needs for survival. Fear of the unknown–can mean anything from not knowing what’s making that bumping noise in the closet, to not have existential knowledge of where you’ll end up after death. Fear of emotional pain, fear of social stigma. We’re scared little apes, so there’s an endless well to tap into here.
  • Create the Right Atmosphere: Depending on your genre and the style you like to write in, you could use your scenes to strike psychological terror (inner thoughts, rampant and illogical emotions, mind-games, gaslighting, etc) physical/gross terror (think limbs stripped of their muscle fibers, blood spurting, eyeballs popped out, or any other gory, pain-inducing action), or subtle/unseen terror (the ever present feeling of dread–small sounds getting closer, lights flickering down long hallways, those two notes on the piano when Jaws was nearby)
  • Make The Stakes High: It’s not going to ruffle your readers feathers if your character meets the friendly neighborhood cat at night if they love cats and brought yum-yums to share. Make it ten mange-riddled cats with broken, sharp teeth, stalking down a feline-hater, from all directions on a deserted city street and then you have a show. Losing a job sucks–but make it the job with the benefits that her sick daughter needs the insurance for, and its a different game (let us pause for a moment when discussing terror and how the American medical system has actually become something that induces terror…think about that for a moment)
  • Consider Your Point of View: There isn’t a wrong POV for horror, it just depends on how you want the reader to feel. Are you aiming to put them in a shed with the axe murderer outside, holding their dying cell phone? (FIRST PERSON)Or are you sitting beside them in the shed with eyes on how close the bloodied axe is to the door, yelling out in the middle of the library “Make the call, you idiot!!! He’s coming for you!!” (THIRD PERSON)
  • Don’t Forget the Character: Listen, it all comes down to the basics, if the reader isn’t invested in your character, they aren’t going to feel the empathy needed to induce terror no matter what horrifying situation you put them into. Make your character someone worth following into the dark and twisted. If your character is the dark and twisted, give it/them the solid justification that makes the reader question who the bad guy really is.

OK! Well, that’s all you get today. Good luck out there creating some suspense. Use it as you need to in your own work and if you feel the Hallow’s Eve vibe, try your hand at a little horror. I always encourage dabbling outside your genre to help make your work stronger.

Happy Writing!

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!

In the Dark and Light

So, last week, I hit a rough patch, and I appreciate all of the kind comments and voices of concern that were raised for my well being and in defense of the human. I wanted to take a moment, before I launch into today’s poetry (brought to you by the amazing NCW Writing Retreat I was able to attend) to reach out and say a few words.

I know all humans aren’t assholes. I also know it’s our job (each human) to try and do our best not to be assholes. To not raise assholes. To forgive those who are being assholes. I know these things. But just like holding a weight constantly can fatigue a muscle and cause injury, holding on to this dark while trying to be light can be draining, so it behooves us all to drop the weight once in a while and call out the asshole-ness when we see it. After all, our job as humans is to try to make it a better world and that sometimes means calling on others to do better by one another.

And now: Poetry:

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Breakdown
When we break apart
to find the core of iron-will within
or the soft underbelly of a soul
too long denied air
Then we will understand the
driving nature of our force
Lies not in what covers us
but what centers us

When we give in to the churning
burn of a life outside our control
the masticating masses of teeth bared 
in anger and fear
Then we will understand that
we only control the product 
of our own mind
And we are the owners of
sanctuaries or hells
within our own creation

When we let go
of the idea that its our job
to dictate the perfections of others
to drive their engines
to direct the film of their lives
and focus instead on 
what beauty we can leave behind
Then we will find the only
fragile, and faltering peace
a human can own.

Humans are Assholes

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Yep. That’s where I’m going today. I know this blog is primarily about writing, but it’s also a blog about living. And in the course of living this past week I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that humans, by and large, are assholes. You can argue the point. I admit there are some good ones out there…but as our society ‘progresses’ I swear I’m witnessing an overturn of kindness and compassion into a collective settling of “me-first” assholeness.

From people honking behind you if you pause too long at an intersection, to those that sprain your wrist in karate class because you threatened their fragile ego. To those judgmental mothers who raise judgmental daughters who body shame other girls, in the same nasty way it has always been since long before I was born, because we’re so caught up in tearing each other down that we don’t realize how much powerful we’d be if we built each other up.

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To those spewing venom on the internet, raging in hateful and hurtful ways without stopping to listen to their own disgusting thought-vomit long enough to ask if it’s truthful. To the creators of those social media worlds that know the beast they’ve created is addictive and harmful, a veritable cesspool of useless and divisive vitriol that has been proven to be suicide-inducing, yet charge ahead anyway because the pay is sweet and the power sweeter.

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To the world that’s declining around us, fires and drought, floods and monsoons, dead coral reefs and decimated animal populations, the earth itself dying a little more every day, racing headlong into environmental destruction.

To the countries that slaughter and enslave women. To our own that treats women as if they were only good for being incubators and objects of desire (really only a step up from the aforementioned countries).

To the drug epidemic, our addiction to technology, poverty, wars we shouldn’t fight, battles we can’t win, politicians (career assholes) who care more about being reelected than they do about what they accomplish towards the common good…

Man, with this slew of examples, what subset of assholery does one even pick to write about? Humans have so many veins of douchery to tap into, I just don’t think I can choose one. All of this has settled like heavy sediment inside my skull and I have little room to breathe in any creativity. I have little room to breathe at all. It’s no wonder people purposefully walk away from it all, permanently or otherwise.

Who wants to live with a bunch of assholes?

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The Rainy Day

Good morning, readers.

Today, I’m sharing one of my very first short stories. It’s always good to dig up past stuff and see how far you’ve come. It’s a little rusty, but it works. Enjoy!

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The Rainy Day

            Lydia Tremel stared down at her hands, folded in her lap. Like a pair of leather gloves. Cracked nails, tipped each finger, shortened and broken. She was never able to keep them nice for very long. The backs of her hands, now with parched valleys of wrinkles and darkened spots shouted, we’ve done our part, more than our fair share. Ed cleared his throat a foot away. He glowered down.

            “You’re gonna get the goddamn house, you know,” he said with veiled venom. Lydia bit her shaking bottom lip and clenched her hands tighter in her lap. “They always give the goddamn woman the house.” He paced the sterile corridor of the courthouse.

            Lydia stared across the wall at the cork board listing the community events on haphazard copies of paper. But her mind traveled far away to the endless hours spent caring for the house. To the dead, grey skin of her knees hidden under her nylons. The testament to countless hours scrubbing floors and bathroom tiles.

            She could feel Ed’s eyes on her, beneath his sweaty brow. His cheeks sagged like a bulldog’s jowls and his stomach stretched the yellow shirt above his brown slacks. A banana shoved into too tight a skin. “Thirty years…” he grumbled and resumed pacing.

            Thirty years. The two words bounced around the hall, and in her brain, conjuring up time that seemed to both last forever and to somehow already be gone. She thought of three children raised and loved by her arms only in ‘the house’. She thought of the tens of thousands of meals she alone had cooked and cleaned up after. She thought of how her girls were now all grown and gone. She glanced up to watch Ed rocking back and forth on his stubbed feet.

            Their names were called. They stood before the judge; lawyers coldly morose on either side. Due to his infidelity, she would receive the house and a proper alimony. Lydia hung her head. Ed’s face blossomed in red sweat, the argument caged behind his closed lips. His lawyer steadied him. Lydia stood up so suddenly that the heat of the courtroom caused her to waiver. The judge and lawyers swung heads in her direction, unaccustomed to a protest from the benefiting side.

“Only the house, your honor,” her mouse-like squeak fell short of the stand. The judge asked her to repeat her request.

“With all due respect, your honor; I would only like the house.” 

Ed sputtered beside her, either from disbelief or joy she wasn’t sure. When asked if she was certain, she only nodded in agreement. The judge raised his eye brows, papers were shuffled, and the request was granted. The rest of the words faded into the background of Lydia’s unadorned mind. The world faded around her glance, and she retreated into the years. Only to be snapped up by the banging gavel and the required signatures. Ed’s face lit up and there was much harrumphing and back slapping on the opposite side of the aisle.

            Twenty minutes to undo what a lifetime had built. Twenty minutes in his office with some pitiful soul hoping to improve her life. She had left her lipstick on his collar, and the smell of her cheap perfume all over his jacket. Twenty minutes in the court, at the end of her rope. Lydia thanked her lawyer and slid into her worn coat. She walked away alone, down the sun-drenched steps, towards the bus. Her knotted hands held tight to her purse as she sat watching the streets of her town sliding by. The market she shopped at, the gas station where he had her buy lotto tickets every week. The park they had once walked hand in hand together. The world was a new and strange place.

            The movers came that afternoon. She hadn’t wasted time in calling. Lydia was nothing if not efficient. Three messages were on the answering machine, one from each of her girls. They seemed to offer only weak assurances from thousands of miles away. Her heart warmed with hearing their voices. They were the best thing he could have given her.

Ed only showed up as the last of his things were being loaded into the grimy white truck. He stood somberly in front of her on the porch. A strange sadness came over his face as if he just realized what was happening.

            “Well.”  He waited for her to fill in his blanks, like a little boy without direction. When she stared blankly at him, an anger and bitterness surfaced in his eyes and face. “I hope you’re happy.”  She turned and closed the door behind her, locking him away. She stood still, eyes closed for a few endless moments. Happy. The word simmered under her skin, a most alien idea. Then, with the clarity she had not possessed since she was a little girl, she went to work.

            She dug into the back of her bottom bureau drawer, behind the lacy knickers and vanilla slips. To an old pair of nylons she had long since worn through. Balled up, and tightly wound around her contingency plan. Ten dollars, every week, for the last twenty some years. Just in case. Not enough to notice, but enough to make a difference on a rainy day. Lydia held the dense ball between her hands and took a deep breath. This was the contingency. This was her rainy day.

            She fidgeted around the house, suddenly not feeling comfortable in its lonely halls and empty rooms. Places still smelled of his cologne, of the roast she had cooked him a month ago, the night she had found the evidence. The same night something deep inside her had broken loose.

She couldn’t find the stomach for food. So, she poured herself a drink and sat in the living room, staring blankly at the freshly vacuumed carpet, the newly dusted shelves. The lifetime of duties now faced her like a museum display. The drink made her dizzy. She wobbled down the hallway and laid down on her side of the empty bed. Still clothed in her best but much dated suit, Lydia fell asleep.

            The next morning’s sun tore through the open blinds without apology. Lydia sat up and glanced around, making sure she had not dreamt the whole episode. Her friends would be meeting for coffee this afternoon. She had to get the last of her work done. With fresh clothes and shampooed hair she set about her to do list. She began with her most important task. It did not take her long, and she found herself with a few minutes to spare. When the box was sealed, she stood for a moment staring down at it. Bold plain print, neatly taped, no return address. She would need to get it to the post by five tomorrow evening. Lydia paused at the kitchen sink.

Staring through the window out into the back yard only brought back the memories of her happier and more ignorant youth. When all she had ever needed was him and the path he’d led her down. The phone rang, successively within the next hour. Her daughters each called again. She reassured them she was fine. She told each and every one of them, how much she loved them, how proud she was of them. They were exceptions to the rules that had governed her own life.

            Lydia had been brought up by parents who did not believe in that sixties-free-thinking-nonsense. She had attended community college but dropped out after meeting and marrying Ed. She began her family quickly as was expected by her parents. Upon the birth of a third daughter, when he had so hoped for a son, Ed had called it quits on having any more children. He placed the blame firmly on Lydia.

Something had simmered beneath the surface of Lydia’s skin as she held her last baby, alone in the hospital. Something that drove her to tuck away cash in an old nylon every week. Something that made her change her own ideas about where a woman’s place should be. Though she had never held a notion of a different for herself, she insisted upon it for her daughters. She raised them against her own grain. Raised them to be independent, strong willed, fighters. She gave them all of the gifts she had never received. And they blossomed. They spread their wings and flew. They’d left her nest. She stared at the sunlight glaring off of the counter top, bouncing across the waxed floor. Was a nest really a nest, without baby birds inside of it? A thin smile creased her lips as she took off her apron and hung it beside the door.

At a quarter to one, Lydia stepped out her front door, package in hand. She locked  up behind her and held on a moment longer to the door handle. Her walk to the bus station felt like leaving home for the first time. She never glanced behind her, kept her eyes forward to the sunlit trees, casting shadows across the pavement. Children were set free from the confines of school and buzzed by on their bicycles. Their shining happy faces bright in the sunlight, their laughter trailed behind them as they passed. She took the mid-town line to a small post office far across town. She paid in cash.

Unhindered by the parcel, she took another bus back to the west side to meet her homemaker’s group for coffee. The springs beneath her bounced rhythmically and she stared out of the window with quiet contentment. The buildings sandwiched together with pencil thin lines separating them. Delis next to barber shops, hardware stores next to diners. People walked about in their normal routine, never straying from the paths that had kept them comfortable for years. Never stopping to notice the world around them. Never questioning the choices they’d made, or the lives they resigned themselves to. Lydia closed her eyes and felt the gentle rocking of the bus beneath her.

The ladies were assembled at their normal table when she arrived. They greeted her easily and resumed their conversation. Their voices were muffled in Lydia’s ears, like a flock of birds twittering to one another. She smiled when they laughed, shook her head when they whispered conspiratorially. Jeanine, who sat next to her, placed a gentle hand on her knee and gave her a small smile.

“How are you fairing, dear?” she whispered. The other ladies stopped their other conversations and swung their well-pompadoured heads towards Lydia. She smiled small and cast her eyes downward. Jeanine had meant it to be between them, but the whole group had been dying to know.

“Fine, I’m just fine.” Lydia produced a tear, and wiped it away on a napkin. “The movers left yesterday. I’m doing alright,” said Lydia. Jeanine squeezed her around the shoulders warmly. The bit of affection warmed her more than anything he’d done for her in the last ten years.

“You’ll let us know if you need anything at all?” one said.

“I hope you got the house,” another chimed in.

“Serves him right,” continued an older woman. Lydia smiled and thanked them, then quickly turned the conversation to anywhere else. When the topic came to the alimony she wasn’t receiving, an awkward silence fell over the booth.

“But Lydia what will you do?”

“How will you make ends meet?”

“Why would you…”

The questions ranged from genuine concern to aghast disbelief. Lydia smiled outwardly while cringing inside.

“I don’t want him owing me anything.” Silence and staring faces responded. Jeanine held her hand firmly.

“Well, good for you then,” her warm eyes were honest. Lydia noted the raised eyebrows and gazes that said she’d lost her mind. Jeanine understood. She smiled into her coffee cup. With a calm knowledge behind her eyes, Lydia thought how much she would miss Jeanine. When coffee was over, her friend walked with her to Jeanine’s car.

“Can I give you a ride, Honey?” Jeanine had never understood why Ed had never let Lydia have a car. She didn’t even know if her friend could drive. Maybe that could change now.

“I think that I’ll take a little walk around town,” replied Lydia.

Jeanine studied the face that she’d known since high school. They’d raised their children alongside each other, exchanged recipes, tips and tricks. Occasionally they’d joke about their husbands over quiet cups of coffee in the kitchen. Lydia had been the only one to show true concern for her after the chemo two years ago. She’d bring her meals, take over her chores and errands with the efficiency of a military commander. She could see something now, ignited within her friend, that both frightened and intrigued her.

“May I join you?” Jeanine’s voice was small on the warm downtown sidewalk. Lydia thought for a moment. It would be wise to have someone with her.

They walked down the street, lined with shops, stopping to glance in windows, daydream or shake their heads.

“Are you really alright?” asked Jeanine as they both stared at a cherry-print sun dress.

“I will be.” Lydia smiled at her old friend. She nodded towards the store’s entrance.

“That?” she pointed disbelieving at the coquettish dress.

“I’m a free woman now,” Lydia shrugged dismissively and walked inside.  

Two hours later and a few packages heavier the friends walked along in silence. Jeanine insisted on giving her a ride home. With arms full of her celebratory packages, Lydia found no reason to protest. The drive was much faster without having to stop at every bus station. Lydia mused how much time in her life she’d wasted because he didn’t want her having a car.

As they rounded the corner of the sleepy suburban street, something was noticeably wrong. Smoke clouded the air and the bright flashes of emergency lights bounced around eerily in the sullied sky. Crowds were gathering.

“What on earth do you suppose…?” Jeanine stopped short as they looked down the street to where three large fire trucks were parked. Yellow mounds of men were putting out the last of the flames, muddying up the ashes with cautionary bursts of water. The smell was choking. The destruction complete.

“Oh, Lydia!”

They rolled to a stop and burst from the car. Lydia ran full-tilt, dropping her purse and packages along the street.

“Ma’am, please!  Stay back!” the shouts were too late as she careened towards the soggy, ashen lawn. The house. Her eyes filled with tears. Her throat choked with a release of sobs. Blackened tinder stood sharp and broken in odd places. A skeleton of burned bones was all that remained of her life.

Jeanine came up from behind, sobbing. “Oh, Lydia!” she said it again, at a loss for anything else. The firemen gently moved her back by her shaking shoulders. Gone. Gone away. All of it lay smoldering and wet. Lumps of charred wood, melted glass, nothing of what she’d closed up behind her this morning was left. She fell to her knees and cried. Tears she had held on to, tears she had kept to herself for so many years. Until she lay spent and free in the grass. Small ashes floated down onto her hair and cheeks. They merged with her tears and painted Lydia’s face with thirty years of nothingness.

The insurance adjuster came on the first day of summer to Jeanine’s house. Lydia had moved in temporarily while the paperwork had been filed and inspections had been made. The investigator determined that faulty wiring in the garage had ignited a pile of Ed’s oily rags.

“Why didn’t he take those damn things with him,” Jeanine seethed. Lydia remained silent. Her eyes were still red and swollen.

“We are very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Tremel. You will, of course be covered by your policy. This brings me to another, more positive note.” He shifted his paperwork more as a matter of building self-importance. Lydia studied the young man’s face and wondered if he’d ever known tragedy in all his short life. “This is quite the silver lining actually,” he paused pulling out another paper from his new briefcase. “It seems you and your former husband increased your fire insurance policy ten years ago.”

“Yes, when there were all of those fires on the east side of town,” nodded Lydia. She had insisted that Ed adjust their coverage. In case of a rainy day.

“With the current property values in your neighborhood, you’re actually coming out well ahead. If you chose to sell the property on top of this check, you’d have a nice little nest egg.”  Lydia glanced at him.

“How much ahead am I?” The young man cleared his throat and reached into his portfolio. He slid the check across the table. Jeanine grabbed it when Lydia seemed to be frozen in place.

“Oh, Lydia,” she gasped out. The young man offered his condolences again and left the stoic Lydia staring at the scrap of blue paper.1q           

The bright, autumn sunlight filtered down through the trees, settled on the rows and rows of vines that stretched out among the rolling hills. A youthful woman stood on her balcony, staring out at the pastoral haven. Her bright red nails shone in the light. Newly colored black locks curled around her face and were piled in a messy coif that elongated her neck.

“Boungiorno!” She waved to the neighboring children on their way to school. They smiled and returned her wave. The beautiful American woman always seemed to be smiling. The postman knocked on her door below the balcony. Barefooted, she ran down the stairs to open the door.

“Boungiorno, Signora,” a tip of his cap. “This parcel just arrived for you. It looks as though it has been around the world, no?” She smiled graciously at him and he blushed in return. He winked slyly at her, acknowledging the charm of her beauty and the power of her age. She filled out the cherry-print dress with curvy peach skin.

“Grazie, Signore.” She took the well-worn box from his grasp.

Later, alone in at the rustic kitchen table, where a coffee cup ring and crumbs still lay, she set the package down. With a large knife she tore through the tape, barely a whisper escaping her lips. Two photo albums, three baby’s hospital bracelets, wire sheath cutters, and a copy of her insurance policy lay beneath the divorce papers. She put the albums on her coffee table and shoved the box in her closet. She called her daughters to tell them goodnight, and not to worry, it never rained here.

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Going Back to School: How Writers Benefit from Classes, Conferences, and Trainings

It’s that time of year again, when the cold crisp air settles around and the light grows softer. The mornings are get-ups and lunch packing and full backpacks. The wind rustles drying leaves and the echo of everything Pumpkin Spice descends. Fall. Probably my favorite season (minus the Pumpkin Spiced everything). Fall signals the slowing down of the bustling summer, a cooling off (we hope), and a getting ready for the winter ahead. It also reminds us of new opportunities to learn, to gain intellectual ground, and to prepare for the prime writing months coming up.

There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last spring, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.

The Long Haul:

MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your Thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.

Online Writing Courses:

A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of softwaretestinghelp.com:

  1. Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
  2. Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
  3. Reedsy Learning Courses
  4. Udemy Creative Writing Courses
  5. edX Creative Writing Courses
  6. FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
  7. OpenLearn Creative Writing
  8. SkillShare Online Creative Writing Classes
  9. Emory Continuing Education Creative Writing
  10. Universal Class
  11. Writers.com Online Writing Courses
  12. Masterclass Creative Writing Classes

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

Feel free to refer back to my older post on conference (you can find it here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/04/01/a-word-or-several-about-writing-conferences/)

For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Northern Colorado Writers at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m funneling my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.

Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.

Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.

The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.

Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!

Poetry 9-2-2021

It’s been a month-long week. Here’s some poetry that boils it down. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever and whatever you’re spending your energy on–I hope it is worthy of your time and love. Take a breath…or seven-hundred.

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The Gift of Silence

What the silence gave me
was the horror
of having to sit with my own 
disasters
car-piled up in my head
like an apocalypse of trauma
each vying for attention
on the quiet stage 

I can’t whack-a-mole them down
without ten more sprouting up
the what about and
the have you forgotten when...
I'm the resistant owner
of a vice-gripped mind 
constantly expanding with 
unsettling pressure

What the silence gave me
was one full breath,
an ocean wave in and out
before the panic of being alone 
in the frayed mess of my life
took that air
in short, shallow gasps 
and suffocated my dopamine.

What the silence gave me
was the truth
that I’ve packed it all in 
too tightly
for too long 
and something
must give.
But I cannot ‘give’.
I was not built to throw away
I was not taught to let go.

I cannot sit in gifted silence 
because I cannot stand the sound
of my own shit show.
Raging its insecurities
its expectations 
like expandable insulation
in the cracks of my gray matter.
I cannot accept this gift
of silence
because my thoughts
are far too loud.