Good morning! Today’s guest blog comes to us from the incomparable Nina (pronounced 9-uh) Naylor. She will be featured in the “Wilderness of Soul” anthology and I’m excited to share her work here with you. Nina has a beautiful approach to the world, writing, and how we all feel as wordsmiths with regards to calling ourselves ‘real writers’.
Here’s a little bit about her:
Nina Naylor is a writer, poet, and essayist. She wrote her first poem at age 8. She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers and the Academy of American Poets. She has had poems, essays and articles published in organizational publications.
Nina was able to take early retirement and has been focusing on her writing dream. She is currently working on a poetry book, a book of prayers, and a memoir.
The subject of her first poem? A dancing pig!
I spent the last few days fretting about driving down to Denver alone to visit my granddaughter. The address existed in an area my mind at once equated being outside my comfort zone. The various degrees of fear rampantly invaded my rational thinking, and my inner critic flooded my brain with negative outcomes and reasons why I should not go. But this cannot be the individual I confidently relate to when I envision that person inside me in its truest form! That woman who embraces all things new and enterprising…who still wants to experience the exhilaration of adventure – the kind that excites and awakens my soul, that allows me to explore new cultural diversities in an unbiased demeanor…who wants to see the Divine Light that shines throughout!
This same consternation relates to my internal dance of viewing myself as a writer and not. To move past the wishing stage and be vulnerable enough in sharing myself with the world. My writing engulfs me – it lives in my soul and to lay myself open to ridicule, critiques and rejection seemed incredulous.
Nevertheless, my adventurous soul still burns – aches to be released and my lifelong dream to write and be published flourishes! Friends and family encouraged my writing throughout the years, but not until I found the fortitude to believe in myself along with the willingness of mind, body and spirit did my journey come to fruition. Last year at Christmastime a dear friend rewarded me with the ultimate gift of support: a poetry book by another woman who recently found the courage to share her soul along with my friend’s accompanying sentiment “I’ve been fortunate to hear some of your poems and stories. Now, I want others to experience the joy of reading them.”
Each year I choose a word to live by and this year my word comes from Debbie Z. Almstedt’s book Zibu: The Power of Angelic Symbology . My word Rakumi means “clarity of purpose” and the accompanying affirmation is “I continue to gain clarity as I listen within knowing the answers unfold with ease.” To fully embrace the adventure and accept myself as a writer opens opportunities each day by being willing to believe and surround myself with positive motivations. This entails positive friendships, writers’ groups, reading the genre l like to write, and sending my work for consideration. I encourage you to seek out what truly fulfills your soul.
Just so you know, I still can have doubts, but they don’t last. The night before I found out two of my poems would in the anthology, I had thought to myself, “who am I to think I can write?!” Believe in yourself…put yourself out there…be willing.
I like to write acrostic poetry and I will leave you with one using my word for this year.
R eceiving A nswers and K nowledge. U nfolding M yself I ntentionally.
By the way – the outing with my granddaughter and her boyfriend in Denver? Joyous!!
Good morning! Today’s post comes to us from one of our lovely neighbors to the North. Nathaniel Luscombe is an up and coming writer from Canada who holds a deep love for all sorts of written things. He’s been featured in three anthologies “There is Us”, “Faces to The Sun”, and the sci-fi fantasy collection “Among Other Worlds”. He’s currently working on the release of his first novella along with other writing projects.
In today’s blog he’s exploring the journey he’s taken so far in his love of writing. His insights into the process, the highs and the lows are something we can all relate to. Look forward to his brilliant poetry being featured in this fall’s “Wilderness of Soul” poetry anthology. Enjoy!
Hello writers! I am so excited to be writing to everyone who reads this blog. My name is Nathaniel Luscombe, and I have, as of being let into this anthology, been accepted for publishing four times. Well technically three, but that’s something we’ll talk about a little later on.
My focus for this blog is on writing and the fear of not succeeding. I think anyone who writes has faced fear of not being enough. Writing is such a personal experience. We’re taking our own experiences, thoughts, and ideas out of our minds and putting them down on paper for anyone to read.
That is quite a startling reality.
It’s also an exciting process.
This is my third poetry anthology. I consider myself to be a science fiction and fantasy writer, but somehow poetry always calls my name at some point. My first anthology was There is Us, run by the phenomenal poet SJ Blasko. My second one was Faces to the Sun, also run by her. The thing that drew me into these anthologies was the topics. There is Us was all about COVID-19 and our experiences during those first few months. Faces to the Sun covers topics of mental health. Both of them are, in my opinion, incredibly important anthologies. One of them documents one of the biggest events in recent history, while the other tackles stigma and opens up a conversation.
In March of this year, I was able to publish the anthology that I ran. It was quite the experience, and sometimes I look back with bits of regret and disappointment at how it turned out, but it was an important first step for me. That anthology is Among Other Worlds, and it was split into science fiction and fantasy. It was terrifying to run my own project, but I was able to work with amazing authors. While I made mistakes, it’s still a tangible first step.
Now with all this behind me, and so much hopefully ahead of me, I have to think about what some of my next steps are going to be.
See… being published three times does not mean anything. I am still so full of doubt and fear. Every time someone mentions that they read one of my works, I want to hide under a pillow for fear of them not enjoying it. Writing is the process of baring one’s soul, and there would be nothing worse than rejection from the people around me. That’s why this anthology came in at a perfect time.
Wilderness of Soul is all about vulnerability, raw feelings, and openness. I think that is such an exciting and important theme for a poetry anthology. My prose is always quite light-hearted, following escapades through space or people using their magic to better their world. Poetry is my escape. It’s the darker side of me, where I pour out my feelings and emotions without letting anything hold me back. I truly believe that poetry is the most vulnerable form of writing. It is a window to the soul, a path to the wilderness of soul (heh, see what I did there?)
So in some ways, publishing poetry is a lot more daunting than publishing a story. It’s not as filtered, and it connects directly to who I am. So now we have established the fear portion of writing. It’s a fear that everyone shares, but everyone wants to get over it.
So let’s work on that together. I want to talk about some things that I have come to terms with in my own journey of conquering the fear of sharing my writing.
First, people will enjoy your writing. When I read through my previous anthologies, there are obviously things I enjoy more than others… but I can appreciate and enjoy each piece as its own creation. Each author took a step into the unknown, not knowing whether they would be rejected or not, and it’s up to me as a reader to see what their vision was. So know that you have an audience. You have supporters. You have talent.
Second, let’s look at the logistics of it all. There is so much focus on writing something that will ‘make or break’ you. I disagree with this notion so strongly. The idea that my ‘debut’ is what represents me for the rest of my life is garbage. I am going to continue changing and growing as a person. My talent with writing will grow, my style will change, my ideas will blossom… and my debut will be a beginning, not an ending. You have more than one chance to make your mark. I am only eighteen. I used to pressure myself to become the best writer, thinking I had to be a published writer by the age of 20. I wanted to hit NYT Bestseller lists, go to writing conventions, have a crowd of adoring fans… I know what you’re thinking, “Umm, Nathaniel, that’s a bit unrealistic.” Yeah, it is. It’s unrealistic, but it’s something I felt pushed onto me because of the pressure to become ME by the time I was an adult and remain that person until I died. Obviously, with writing being such a big part of who I am, I thought that I had to have my writing fully developed by that time as well. Take your time, have some fun, and don’t turn your writing into a chore. Get rid of the fear that you only have one shot. I am on my fourth shot. These are not shots, these are opportunities. I am not here to make it big. I’m here to offer my voice for a project I believe in.
My third and final point is watching the advice that you take. I have spent so much of my life taking advice from people I hold no respect for or who know nothing about what I’m doing. Advice is never a bad thing, but how seriously you take it should depend on the person it is coming from. How does this connect to fear? Well the fear of becoming a failure is rooted in people that give you a lot of self-doubt. There is a barrier between healthy confidence and being straight up cocky. I do not think the publishing world is going to bow at me and give me every opportunity I want. I also don’t think my journey is going to be rejectless. I expect a long, rough road… but I am excited and ready to get into it. For a while, I thought that I had no chances because I was listening to people that didn’t have my best interests and weren’t in a position in my life that should’ve allowed them to get to me. You need to realize that everyone has a chance at this. You might end up as a writer, you might not end up as a writer. Either way, at least you tried.
Writing this all out has been so freeing. Call it closure, call it the need to figure out my issues, but this is the most intimate piece of writing I have put out for a while. It’s not as detailed as it could be, but some things are better left inside. I just want to be the one to give you a boost of confidence. Let me encourage you as a writer, because I bet you have an amazing story to tell.
Times of transition are like hurricanes. Confusing, loud, messy and intense. There is uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness that directly affects our peace and sanctuary. Some of us deal with the changes with decidedly more grace than others. Some are rocked off their foundations, never to be the same again.
The point is that no one is safe from change. And why the hell would you want to be?
Change is the great motivator. It is the one unequivocal trait of the progression of human life. Without it we are stagnant lumps. Change breeds invention and new ideas, it sparks, hopefully, encompassing understanding and empathy. Compassion even.
What happens though, when we have too much change? When we are in a constant state of upheaval. When everything in life is a transition?
It is proven that children who suffer chronic instability (experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes their norm) can suffer from toxic stress.
Toxic stress increases the risks of several physical and social problems including but not limited to increased risk for cancer and diabetes, heart, lung, and liver disease, increased risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression.
While a normal amount of stress can be good (it stimulates healthy growth, promotes resilience, and helps us to learn coping mechanisms), constant stress and insecurity in our lives actually causes the body great physical and psychological harm.
The effects are more pronounced in children but adults are not immune. Just ask the millions of people living with high blood pressure, depression, cardiac disease etc. We are in over our heads.
So how do we balance the change and transition? How do we grow and push our boundaries without breaking apart our safety net?
Balance seems a cop-out idea. Of course balance (*eye roll*). That’s like asking “how do I write a novel” and some smart ass saying “Just sit down and write”.
True…but too general. Writing, like balance, is not a one size fits all idea. What is balanced for me is way too much for someone else. One woman’s six, 50,000 word romances a year is another’s one 38,0000 word novel every seven.
How do we find our balance? How do we find the right amount of change? I think the answer lies in retaining sanctuary in our lives. Now I’m not talking humpy-backed bell swingers walled up inside the cathedral, sanctuary. I’m speaking of it on a more personal and sometimes mental level.
Are you safe in your own mind? Do you have a place to go, in your brain, where you can let go, remember to breathe, where your shoulders can drop away from your ears and you can feel at peace? Or is it all hell-fire and disaster, 24/7 from the moment you wake from stress-induced nightmares to the moment you’re knocking yourself out with Melatonin just to escape?
We all need peace. We all need change. How much of each is dependent on who you are.
One person may be content taking 15 credit hours, while raising a family of six and working part time for the PTA. Another may be perfectly happy chiming into an online forum on bee-keeping once a week and counting her reading in hours not minutes. One person may be at home living from a suitcase, jet-setting to all parts of the world for a story and a perspective never gleaned. Another may never leave their childhood hometown and yet still maintain contentment in the smaller world around them.
I’m not here to tell you how much change to accept. I’m here to tell you to accept some change. Pursue some change. But if you find that all you do is change, and you can’t recognize yourself or the people you love anymore, then it’s time to come back home.
Use that one word…what is it? Shoot, I’m not very good at this word, though I’m learning to let my lips form it’s simple monosyllabic music…it’s… NO. The word is NO. If you’re genteel you may even tack on a “Thank You” at the end.
NO is a great place to start. No I do not want to go to that party. No, I do not want to volunteer sixteen hours a week when I’m barely getting my chapters written. No I don’t have time to bake seventy-two cupcakes for the basket-weaving club…would you take a donation instead?
Conversely…don’t forget your YES button in the gleeful mania of refusing. Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, it’s been too long! YES I would love to take a weekend class in basket weaving. YES, it would be an honor to help out for five hours a week. YES, I’ll go to Italy with you, tall-dark-and-handsome stranger…(*guffaw* still waiting for that one to come around).
You know you best. If you aren’t sleeping. if you’ve bitten your nails to the nubs and can feel the bonds of your family life deteriorating. If you’ve sacrificed what you’ve loved to do what you “should” for too long, then its time to take a long hard look at your hurricane and find a graceful exit from the storm.
If you’re still in a dead end job because you’re too afraid to throw caution to the winds of the hurricane blowing outside, do yourself and everyone who loves you a favor and chase that storm. Live a little for goodness sake. We only go get so much time! Don’t waste it wishing for something better, when you are perfectly capable of hunting down the something better and taking it back to your sanctuary.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you an older work of mine for this week, refurbished and reworked. The process of poetry is one of constant motion. If you’re bored (as my children often claim they are in the hot months of summer) I encourage you to find an old work of your own and give it a refresh.
I will only be accepting submissions for a couple more months for The Beautiful Stuff’s 2021 Poetry Anthology. Send me your stuff and we’ll have an awesome little email chat.
Enjoy this little trip up a trail with a broken heart.
This sickening depth of damage you’d leave?
(blow it out slow)
The hole so deep and wide
an ache so subtly gnawing
(don’t forget to breathe again…)
Good riddance, I’d said
(force air in)
Don’t let the fucking door hit you
(fake bravado exhale)
I’m better off.
I don’t need you…
Air bounces around
frantically looks for an exit,
erupts from the empty cavern of my chest
bursting its way out of my lungs.
I don’t need…you
Hold still now.
To the sound of hollowness inside,
Was it like this before?
Was my heart always a black hole?
it beats with the scrape of metal on glass,
leaves dry water rings in the bottom of a heat-baked pot.
Where is the air?
The rumble of thunder but no relief of rain
The one shoe drop.
Your end of the phone
dead, weighted silence.
Finally, you’re gone!
(breathe, damn it)
Tears trace down dusty length of my neck
(Gasp, Gulp, Cough)
Darkness drops and nothing but space grows
in the garden of a heart once so carefully tended.
I don’t need you.
Hello writers and readers! Today’s blog comes to us from a winning contributor of The Beautiful Stuff’s 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.
Liyona considers herself an “average joe” kind of writer who likes to think about ordinary things and then write them down. Ever since she can remember, she has been rhyming words and creating lyric poems. During her college years, she took a more serious bent toward writing and started to post on her blog, The Life and Times of a Quirky Character (https://liyonadancer100.wordpress.com/category/writing-2/). Currently, she resides on the East Coast of the United States just north of the country’s capital. Liyona’s prose have been published in Visual Verse, Flora Fiction and Spillwords. You can also find her commenting and collaborating as a Barista at the Go Dog Go Cafe.
As you read through this journey of one writer’s process, I urge you to think about your own methods, style, obstacles, and ‘safe’ spaces for writing.
Hello everyone, my name is Liyona. I am so excited to be sharing a bit about myself and my writing journey.
I have always enjoyed writing and creating stories. From a young age, I scribbled down notes and stories about fantasy worlds and characters. As I grew older, I found writing to be a cathartic way to transmit my thoughts and feelings and continued to write but through poems and short prose pieces.
My favorite and ‘safe’ space is found in free form poetry where there is no rhyme or meter. In this form, I love to create rhythms and beats that are evident if you read the poem out loud.
Over the past year, I have been challenging myself to submit to online magazines and weekly prompts. This has been an amazing challenge that has pushed my writing to the next level. I find that by working to time frames and prompts I am required to be intentional about word choice and decisive in editing. Usually, I take time mull over a prompt and let it sit in my subconscious for a while. Then, I take only a few minutes to respond to a prompt or to create a new poem. This allows me to release every idea onto the page. From there, I will re-read/edit my work by reading the poem out loud.
The rhythm is very important to me; during this stage I will make changes based on beats and measure, almost like a song. I tend to release a poem and post it soon after it is written. This allows me to keep creating, keep moving forward and continue stretching my writing so that I am able to create new and more interesting pieces. I am very happy to be part of this poetry anthology. It is such a wonderful opportunity to share my work and meet fellow writers!
You pry out and Bend my bones, hack off my hair to Spend on whores of imagination, Toil for bread and say, “Fed!” to hollow eyes and shrunken Bellies. The sweat of my Breasts is dry, your new Words lost to me, clipped Tongue shorn of old Speech, I beseech from you some answer, some Will to less than power in this Hour of your need.
In my previous guest-poet post on The Beautiful Stuff , I said that “the absorber of a poem eavesdrops on the speaker’s liminal/threshold experience.” That is, poetry is eavesdropping on an experience of the speaker unselfconsciously being themselves, unaware of being watched/heard.
Poet and speaker are not necessarily one and the same. The poet creates a glimpse of another soul’s thought or experience. The craft of poetry is like that of any other fiction, to suspend disbelief—to so absorb the reader that the reader forgets that they’re “reading/hearing” anything but rather are sharing in an inner experience that would otherwise be inaccessible.
In short, poetry is a mutually welcomed telepathy. There’s a creepy factor to that eavesdropping but also a magik. In daily experience, we can’t read each other’s thoughts. Poetry invites us to a “sixth sense,” accessible to anyone.
We don’t need telepathic superpowers (unless, of course, poetry is that superpower). The voice of “Mother Bend” is not my own. I attempt to telepathically grasp the inner world of the speaker and reveal it to you. I’m not here going to say who that speaker is. After all, the poem must speak for itself. I invite you to join in my attempt at telepathy, to widen both our souls. As you listen/read, I ask you to frame your own questions. You can start with Who is “Mother Bend”? To whom does she speak? Why is “Mother Bend”? Enjoy finding out.
I can’t think of anything that’s been written about more when it comes to self-help topics, so, when I gave myself the challenge of writing another tome about the ability to let go, I was concerned. If humans keep writing about it, it must mean that letting go is a difficult path and one that is neither straight nor narrow.
Why do we have such a hard time letting go? Why do humans cling to thoughts, ideas, actions and people that do not serve our happiness and wellbeing? It starts, my friends, in the beginning…in the way, way back. Before we had cars. Before we domesticated horses. Before we had special shoes for date nights. Before we had shoes.
I’m a student of evolutionary biology, a science that says humans behave in the best interest of the survival of their genetic code. Above all else, we seek to carry on in the face of eminent dangers, perilous foes, and unpredictable habitats. So when we have trouble letting go of that grudge we developed against our former BFF, or of that co-dependent relationship that makes us a shell of a human, its because of something so fundamentally biological and deeply wired that its monumental to overcome it.
We no longer have to worry about remembering which berries caused us to vomit all of our mammoth steak out, or that lions tended to hide in that particular patch of grass, but our brains still cling to moments that have caused us pain, discomfort and ‘attacked’ us. It’s how we avoid that patch of grass. Its how we leave the berries on the bush. Its how we won’t let ourselves move on from the memories of things that have scarred us.
Modernity, of course, doesn’t give us the same enemies. It gives us the tattered shreds of relationships gone wrong; it gives us the slings and arrows of hurtful words, broken promises, and unsaid feelings. And by holding on to those, our brains believe that we’ll be saved from the next snake in the grass.
Conversely, our brains will fixate on the sweet moments of the past to the point of overshadowing the bad that went along with it. We do this because the pleasure of the good is less traumatic to remember than the negativity of the bad. We remember how sweet that guy was…not his narcissistic tendency. We remember how much we loved that job…except the mind-numbing monotony. We remember how awesome high school was…except for the nasty cliques that made our days an emotional train wreck. We cling to the bright, to the beautiful, to the often overblown memories of happiness that we miss…moments that never really happened that way.
On both accounts we are hanging on; whether to protect ourselves from pain, or to glean some long lost, and skewed version of happiness. If we are committed to cleaning our slate and letting go, the route is the same for both and has everything to do with being honest with our selves. We aren’t roaming savannahs anymore. We have shoes. We have knowledge. We are self-aware. We know why we behave certain ways and thus need to be more introspective about our behaviors.
Is that a poison berry? Or is it an archaic response that has thrown up walls around my heart to a person who could benefit from my forgiveness. Does hanging on to the memory of that person, place, or time, serve me today, and in my future? Does it serve to make me better, happier, more complete? Does what I’m clinging to make me a better person? Is it propelling me on my journey or dragging behind me like a chained weight shackled on? Mostly, it’s the later.
The best response is to acknowledge those moments, be truly self aware in them, and deconstruct them. Peel back the layers and understand why your heart is clenched around them. Did that moment hurt? Are you afraid it will repeat itself? Do you have good cause to fear and is the fear worth staying stuck in the same pattern for the rest of your life?
Convincing yourself to let go of things that you fear could cause further pain might be made easier by consciously saving the lesson but letting go the memory. That break-up hurt, so learn why it went down so spectacularly in a fiery blast. Does it mean you can’t have another relationship? No…but be aware of your patterns, of your part in the failures. Forgive yourself for doing the best you could at the moment and promise your shiny new self-aware self, to do better next time.
Letting go starts with being honest with yourself, forgiving and understanding the damage that hanging on can do. You can’t open your hands to the world if you’re clinging pointlessly to the past. You can’t build new happiness in your life if you believe all of your happy days are behind you. Let that shit go. Drop it like it’s hot. Free up those hands for something better. Free up that heart for the next love. Free up that brain space for something useful; something that can benefit humankind, not just your own survival.
What would happen if we strived, in our new self-aware state, to not let the possibility of predator eyes in the tall grass keep us away from the sweetest berries? What happens when we chose to live without fear of hurt or failure? What happens when we chose to live our best life in this present instead of wallowing in regretful glances over our shoulder at the past?
Freedom happens. New and brilliant horizons. Bare and unfettered feet, untethered potential.
So let go. Let go the hate. Let go the pain. Let it down into the Earth (she’s a big and beautiful momma and she will take it for you) Put down your chains, and chose to move ahead a free human.
Good morning, readers. Today’s poem comes from me. And all my dark, little underbelly areas. I hope you enjoy. Remember that I’m still accepting submissions for the “Wilderness of Soul” Anthology coming out this fall. Email me your name, a short bio, and up to three poems for consideration. Thanks!
And now, this:
We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
In the cold calm
Where quiet winds spoke our truth
Before we signed our names
We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
Your hand warm in mine
Nary a tremor,
Showing the branches above
The strength of spirit
On first steps towards Home
Lightning our baggage
Before setting off.
We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
For to lay in a sea of damp grass
And share the sharp ticket
First you, then I.
Listening with fingertips
As your pulse beats into the dirt
And feeling the fading light
As flesh calmly goes cold.
We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
In the breaking heart of dawn
The only thing we’ve ever
Been sure of.
We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
We thre3 did not return.
They say we are divided, us wily writers. Those creative fluffs that let the words burn through them and damn the story arc consequences until the laborious editing process. Those starched-collar spreadsheet architects that engineer the life out of a story until it can be laid out like a mathematical equation. Two ends of a long spectrum encompassing how we all go about writing our stories.
Whether you’re on your first novel, your seventieth short story, or your tenth attempt at nailing flash fiction, we all have a style that suits our particular intelligence. When I use that word, intelligence, I’m not talking IQ scores or any other accepted standardized measure of smarts. I’m talking about the way we each learn and create. Some of us are spacialists. Some of us are naturalists. Some of us are mathematicians. Some of us are socialis–uh…well not ‘socialists’ in the negative way that gets a bad wrap these days…social butterflies? We all have strengths in different areas of “smarts”. (pssst–check out the cool infographic from blog.adioma.com–based on Mark Vital’s work. If you have an extra minute, look through it and see where your head’s at)
HOWEVER, each one of us–and I’m making this assumption because you’re reading a writing blog–are gifted with some level of literary intelligence. Storytelling. Weaving words. Building worlds with letters. So let’s start on that common ground and get to know why plotting out your story, no matter how fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-writer you are, will help free up brain space for better writing and save you a literal shit ton of time in editing.
I’m a pantser. I’ve always been that way. It’s a creative deluge in my brain on many days. Hundreds of thousands of words, hundreds of characters, plots galore. ALSO– at least six unfinished nearly full length novels, countless ‘story-starts’ as I call them, and plots that have fizzled simply because the fire burned itself out when it hit the cliff of not having a plan.
If you are on my side of the spectrum, how do we avoid the graveyard of fizzled projects, laying stagnant on our lap tops?
Well, we simply need to learn to buckle down.
OK, OK, COME BACK!
Jesus, I’m not some pastor dad from a bad 80’s movie, trying to tell you to shut off the Billy Idol and get a real job.
I’m just saying, as we mature as writers we can still have fun, and be responsible (I feel like a More You Know, after school special moment coming on) to our stories and characters.
When I say buckle down, I’m thinking more in terms of a roller coaster. The buckles keep you secure while the ride still thrills and delights.
Here’s how I balance out my willy-nilly need to write untethered and the reader’s need to have structure (yes–reader’s need structure…what happens on the roller coaster is fun, but they don’t want to fall to their deaths on the first loop-d-loop)
When you get your idea (character, plot, situation etc): Write the hell out of it. I always think of them as scenes. I imagine situations or characters that play out in my head and I just write without self-editing the movie in my head. this can be a couple of pages, up to even 10-15 pages of material. Once I feel, like this story/character has potential and I want to know more about them, that I want to invest book-length time and effort into them, I then…
Create a loose story-line. Usually on an informal notebook page, turned sideways. Some people use graphics and spreadsheets. I know myself. If I started doing that it would turn into flashbacks of Anthropological Research Methods and my only C paper…ever… ew, statistics David. That would take all the joy from it for me. Like strapping into a roller coaster with seven belts and having the cart inch along at a safe three-mile-an-hour speed. Don’t fence me in, Excel.
The story line doesn’t have to be crazy detailed. But it should have an act structure. Sure, I could dictate (*snicker* dic-tate) that it be a hard-line three act structure with appropriate crises and resolution points. But some stories require more, (rarely less). If you went through step one above, chances are you have a pretty good idea of at least the beginning and end. You know what your character wants and if they get it or not. The tricky bit is in the center and that brings us to this…
Plotting is important because it will help you get through the doldrums of the middle, where most novels go to die. Having some definite ideas about how crisis points build, where and when they come to a head, and how your character changes afterwards will help you know what to write next to keep the story moving in the right direction. Within that outline, is still a great abundance of wiggle room, so don’t get caught up in specifics when you draft your outline.
Well, I think that that’s all I’m going to torture you with today. You might find, by starting with this simple diagram you feel more comfortable elaborating on it, adding plot points, character transition moments, and secondary or series arcs into it. Good luck out there, pantser. Buckle up, writers. It’s one hell of a ride.
Hello poetry lovers. I realize I’ve given you three consecutive weeks of poems to read and dwell on, but in this increasingly busy season of end-of-school activities, and my own personal work schedule, I’m pleased to be able to offer something diverse, impactful and economical (aka isn’t monopolizing anyone’s limited time). So, with that, it is a great honor to introduce this next poet to you. I didn’t realize I’d put them so closely together, so if you recognize the name from a few weeks back, you are not wrong in assuming John is one half of a dynamic duo of poets.
Ya’ll, I can’t be more excited to introduce his work here. He has a brevity and flow that feels like it needs a backbeat and could be something I’d belt out in my car when it comes on the radio. Take a minute with it, roll it round your brain. See if you feel the rhythm to his words and phrasing. It’s magical. I’m only offering one of his poems here but there are two more to be included in this Fall’s upcoming anthology.
Here’s a little bit about John:
John Lipp is firstly, a new father and lucky husband. He did what every 13 year old with a guitar would do, and played in blink-182 cover bands through adolescence, so most of his writing has been devoted to mediocre punk rock. He devoted last November to strengthening his skills in poetry, abstaining from his usual time-wasters. He is currently co-writing a book on the effects of the death of a father (funnier than it sounds), and writing a tandem novella/ concept album about a time traveling boy band from 1999. He’s sure it will work out.
Be it the end of a stick, the keys that you click, or a bottle of white slick liquid that sticks and affixes itself to fix what is inadequate; you have a purpose, to change.
Nature grows a branch that won’t stand a chance, but the pruner’s cut offers a contrary stance. Where torrential storm was once in control, the loss of one limb has strengthened the whole.
But have you not changed what is to come? Do these mistakes constitute becoming undone? You change the words, you change what’s to pan. Once the name of the tool, now the name of the man.
Good morning, all. Today’s beautiful contribution comes to us from a tremendously talented, kind-hearted, and all-around stellar human being. I’ve known Lauren for over five years now and every single time I get to talk with her, she just makes me feel like the world is a better place to be in.
The poem below, as well as two other, equally moving pieces, will be featured in “Wilderness of Soul” later this year!
Here’s a little about her:
Lauren Newman Lipp is a typical millennial that loves Harry Potter, early 2000’s emo music, and writing passionate pieces that reflect everyday life and struggles. She’s been expressing herself through the written word since her favorite teacher, Ms. Cowdry, taught her how to write in Kindergarten. Since then, she’s explored many forms of writing and loves the mighty power a pen can hold (although she sometimes ditches the pen for a keyboard). She earned a Bachelor’s degree from CSU Fort Collins in English, and her claim to fame is writing an A paper only hours before it was due in class. She has read “Othello” more times than she can count and loves to discuss the many complexities of Iago’s character. She spent some time teaching Language Arts and trying to pass along her love for reading and writing to 6th graders. These days, Lauren spends her time trying to make her husband laugh, playing with and chasing her toddler, and working on a novel about werewolves.
And now, Ladies and Gents; the incomparable Ms. Lauren:
Staring into my pre-portioned glass of red wine,
5 ounces exactly,
I beg for a revelation to fall over top of me.
To crumble over my shoulders and open my eyes wider.
Stephen King once mentioned that if you, as a writer, didn’t have time to read, then you didn’t have time to write. Even more recently, at the closing remarks of this year’s NCW writing conference (https://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/) I was reminded by the incomparable Teresa Funke (https://www.teresafunke.com/) that writers who read shouldn’t consider that time ‘wasted’ or a guilty pleasure. Every book we read teaches us something about the craft, our own voice as writers, and provides us with inspiration and information that will be useful in our own projects.
So, as the warmth of lazy days approaches (ha ha–just kidding, if you’re a parent, summers aren’t ever lazy), I’ve compiled a list of books that may be of interest to writers, as well as some good-ol-fashioned brain candy. Let’s be honest, no one wants to spend their summer vacation slogging through a MFA reading list–gag me. The books below should be helpful AND entertaining. Each has been selected because it offers insight to the craft of writing or has brilliant use of good writing…or it’s just plain fun to read.
“On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft” Stephen King: I read this one every year. He’s down to earth, helpful, at times hard-assed, and others vulnerable. A beautiful book.
“The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience” Chuck Wendig: Holy shit snacks… If you haven’t followed Chuck Wendig’s blog (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/)or read ANY of his books, you need to rethink where your life is heading. Part heart-felt genius, part sacrilegious savant, “Kick-Ass” is a fun and mildly irreverent romp through the derelict world of writing and I can’t love the man’s sense of humor or talent more.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” V.E. Schwab: I told you it wasn’t all about writing manuals. This book is poetically beautiful, curious and heart wrenching. It’s a little tragic, a little romantic, and has just enough magic realism to make you feel like you’re cheating on your homework by reading it. Schwab also does a beautiful job transitioning through time, space, and POV.
“Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You” Ray Bradbury: I’d like to think, because we share a birthday, some of his playful brilliance will soak into my brain by some sort of weird Zodiac osmosis…hasn’t happened yet. This book is full of good advice, and assurances that the writing mind is not meant to be ‘normal’ and also that writing what we love, even if it’s labeled as low-brow or ‘not literary’ is more important than trying to get our books into an MFA program. As Bradbury says: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
“Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” Blake Snyder. Is it the last book on screenwriting I’ll ever need? Probably not. But even if you’re not a screenwriter this book has good information about story beats, plotting, character development and writing a story that audiences (your readers) will both love and be satisfied with. On a side note, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book that may someday transition to film, this is a great book to check out in understanding the process of writing a compelling story that live audiences will love.
“Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life” Teresa R Funke. https://www.teresafunke.com/ This book is not just a boost of energy and inspiration, it’s a good ‘life skills’ book. We all need to know that our ideas matter, that it is possible to pursue our dreams and find the time to make them a reality, but this book offers helpful insights on how to do it and why it’s so imperative that we do. Teresa is not only a brilliant author but an amazing, down-to-earth, and kind human who has enough experience in the world of writing to know what she’s talking about.
Well, there you have it. I hope you get to read some of these this summer. If you don’t, I encourage you to pick up a few books in your genre and a few outside of it. See what you can learn. Even–try something out of your scope of practice (Non-fiction/Fiction) and see how the other half lives. Something is to be gained from every page we take in. Happy reading out there!
Good morning, Beautiful Readers! Today’s blog and poem come to us from the incredibly talented Bethany Beeler. https://www.bethanybeeler.com/. Please enjoy an in-depth look at why poetry offers us intense and true experience, in an angel’s breath of time and, as Beeler so eloquently says, “poems are your and my experience of a unique and intimate moment that can’t be replicated“
I would love to see some discussion on this blog so shoot me your comments and questions. Also, look forward to enjoying some of Bethany’s poetry in The Beautiful Stuff’s new anthology “Wilderness of Soul“, out next Fall.
Here’s a little more about Bethany and where you can find her work:
Author of North Street Book Prize Finalist, How to NOT Know You’re Trans., and artist, Bethany A. Beeler was born and raised in the Pittsburgh, PA area. After college, she settled in Texas for the next 37 years with her wife Pamalyn, raising three children, and mayoring the city of Krum, TX. She’s been a professor, teacher, and tech writer. Her work has been published in The Twinbill.
Goddess fingernail moon over pines, Crepe myrtle early Bloom. Huntress Belt, chaste and fair, Hekate Gift and swoon. Thrush song’s Dark, creeping Cold Grips my soul. Walk apace, Venture, snap, Brittle face, I Take her lavender Kiss, lips trembling. I Sing silent, sibilant, unsated heart, hand in Nest, breast aflame, this (Nipple spark) Touch too wet, Soft. I Hush, her hand awash in Me, greet, guide, hold, caress, I Burst, dripping Star and comet, quasar and Dust, fecund harvest, Birdsong lush in night of Morn and noon. She takes Me home too soon to sleep in Parted lips, hastening another Kiss.
In The Alphabet Versus the Goddess , Leonard Shlain says that “written words and images are entirely different ‘creatures.’ Each calls forth a complementary but opposing perceptual strategy.” He’s wrong in two ways—words and images are not merely complementary but are abstractions of a deeper reality, which, of course, also means they aren’t in opposition at all. That deeper reality is experience, which is neither an abstraction nor a material thing but an event that is life itself. Nowhere do we better see the wholeness of which image and word are but facets than in poetry. Poems are liminal moments of experience. If novels can be likened to movies and short stories to snapshots, poems are not even the camera flicking on; they’re the threshold between “on” and “off,” an event that can’t be filmed or recorded but experienced only. We don’t observe poems. We live them.
In poetry, words cease to be signifiers but image things themselves, and images cease to be “like” anything but word experience itself. When I write a poem, I’m both aware of and oblivious to being watched. The absorber of a poem is eavesdrops on the speaker’s liminal/threshold experience. I am not the speaker of my poems, but we couldn’t eavesdrop on that speaker without me as the poet and you the voyeur. I hope you feel the same about poems you write and ones you take in. Whether composed or received, poems are your and my experience of a unique and intimate moment that can’t be replicated. The quality of your and my experience and the event you and I consummate is more unique than you and I are individually. Here, in this moment, at this doorway, we meet in a way we’ll never meet again, even upon repeat couplings. Ours forever, it can’t be taken away.
So what is “ours” about “Another Kiss”? I love words sounding to me without my thinking about them. I want their thud, slither, or hiss to knell me and you without their having to “mean something.” Simply put, I try to make words “image” experience for you and me. That being said, consciously or not, I don’t choose just any words to thud, slither, or hiss us. Those chosen words image a river of cultural and personal significance for you and me. In a poem, we step into a river that was there before us, caresses us right now, and will tug us after. But you and I change its course. For the better. In a way no one alone, nor any other pairing of persons can recreate.
But I want us to recreate, too. And “Another Kiss” is as sensual a poem as they come. I swallowed this night, wooed by plants, scents, breezes, stars. I invite you to seduce the event, as the event. For you and I are the event. Enjoy.
Ya’ll, I’m super excited to feature this next artist. Not only is she a beautiful writer, and a wonderful person, but the poetry she sent me is some of the most sensual, melodic, and moving work I’ve read in a while (AND anyone who knows my novels, knows I have a particular longing in my heart for Mainers). Please enjoy and feel free to share!
Our beloved poet, Jennifer Lockwood George comes to us from the coast of Maine, where she teaches writing to college freshmen who live in little Zoom boxes with their names in the corners. She graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine in 2019. Her work has appeared in The Kankakee Daily Journal, Muse, Stonecoast Review, and The Ginger Collect. Her novella was published serially in The Silver Pen’s Youth Imagination online literary magazine. She has also been a guest writer on the Celebrities in Disgrace blog.
And Then Nothing Happened
You pretended your English was terrible. You asked me to stay to sort out your syntax, to smooth your eager consonants and soften the accent that told stories you would never pronounce.
I would not correct the music that came from your lips.
You wanted me to turn grammar into an aria. You leaned closer as I sang each conjugation.
I pretended I wouldn’t give my right arm to hear you play the piano, but I could have spent forever watching you coax desire from ivory and wood.
I wanted to hear you recite Lizst with your eyes closed, tilting your chin upward in rapture tightening your jaw at the climax, rosé wine tinting your cheeks at the final decrescendo.
You taught me scales and finger positions.
We were forbidden liquor; neither of us would drink.
You called my name as I left your studio. My coat was on.
You offered me wine. The notes you poured flowed over the piano keys and onto the floor, flooding the room, rising from my feet, to my ankles, then my knees.
My vision blurred. My coat became a drunkard’s snare, my purse strap a bond I could not escape.
I fought against your concerto, fought not to sway fought not to dive into the flow fought not to ask you to pour more.
I could not reach the door; Music’s brazen kiss had backed me against the wall—
Until your fingers collapsed on themselves and you forgot how the rest of the song went.
While Link set up the lines to refuel the ship, Rhea visited the great Hall of Books. Laria shed her outer layers with relish as if coming home and kicking her shoes off. She sighed and rolled the tension from her neck while Finn watched her from the corner of his spectacles. He never pressed, but she somehow felt compelled to speak in his presence. She watched Rhea gasp through the stacks of books, reaching out to touch only to pull her hand back in fear or reverence.
“I’m sorry to come here. I’m sorry to bring trouble,” Laria began and looked down at her dirty clothes. Finn was accustomed to seeing her disrobed to her under garments, as she tended to shed the extra weight of armor and weaponry shortly after entering The Library. He motioned for her to join him in her quarters at the end of the hall. He never offered her room to any other visitor or traveling scholar. It was Eularia’s room, even without her around. Some nights, when the desire of missing her was too great, and the Ring’s hold on her too strong, he slept there.
“Rhea is no trouble.” He assured, glancing over his shoulder to where the young girl was cautiously exploring the section of biological texts.
“She’s—I don’t know what she is, Finn, but I gotta bad feeling about this. About her.”
“Because T’Elliot contacted me before his ship was blown to nothing-dust to tell me she needed to be protected. I feel like this could be—” she paused to scowl, “more important than I like to get involved with.”
Finn’s eyes settled on her thin, once-white camisole and shook himself into reality.
“Well, we mustn’t place too much on our feelings about getting involved—” coldness tinged his words.
“Finn—” she whispered. “I can’t—You know why I can’t be here with you all the time. I’ve got too many enemies. I’ve got too much baggage. I don’t belong in one place for long. I don’t belong anywhere,” her voice cracked with the weight of the day.
“You could if you chose to! You could stay, here. You could stay with me,” he said suddenly and turned away; his whole body flushed with heated blood. “I mean here…in the book stacks. In the quiet. Aren’t you tired of fighting all the time?” he whispered and she felt his frustration in the space of the room.
Laria sighed. He wasn’t wrong.
“Kronos, yes,” she admitted and stared down at her scraped and bruised hands. “It’s just—Rhea. She’s different, Finn. She’s—she’s a map.”
“You mean she has a map? What kind of map?”
No. I think she is a map.”
“A map to what? Treasure?”
“She says it’s something called the Conduit.”
Finn’s brows drew in and he studied her.
“Yeah? Did I stutter?”
He turned and raced up the ladder to the top shelf of books; the ones he’d kept away from public view in fear that they’d be destroyed or stolen. Books he hoped to read to her someday.
He was instantly preoccupied with the search for whatever the word had inspired in him, and hunted through the rows with lingering fingers and soft words pressed between his lips; whispered names, dates, titles. For long minutes he went on.
“Okay…look, I’m gonna go clean up. You—” but Finn didn’t acknowledge her or even pretend to have heard in the midst of his fixation. “Right. Keep on, doing what bookies do.” She said, partly annoyed but mostly enamored with Finn’s singular focus.
Link met up with her in the hall, olive eyes falling to her light camisole, before snapping to attention.
“I’ll find the kid a place to stay, and I’ll hold off on calling my contact until we figure more out,” he said, resigned. Laria looked at him and sighed.
“Look, Link. I know it’s been a rough day.”
“And—how is that different from any other turn for us?” he smirked.
She reached out and dug a piece of shrapnel out of his leather vest. He watched her lithe fingers dislodge the shard. He heard her sigh.
“You’re not the worst partner a pirate could have.”
Link smiled and took the sharp piece from her hand, fingers grazing. “Why that might be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he smiled, dashingly. She rolled her eyes and headed for the shower room.
The ability to wash up after the smoke-filled battle and the remnants of days without water was a decadence rarely afforded. Water was not something they had an abundance of on the ship. Though the moon of Titan was made almost purely of ice, the Royals found a way to market everything and could turn a profit from rock if it suited them. But The Library, once a rectory of power and the hubris of man’s infantile knowledge, had been equipped with running water, electricity, and quite a comfortable existence for something not directly controlled by the Royals. It was lucky for them at all that Link happened to be school-friends with Finn. It had certainly made the difference in her life.
These thoughts and the strange history of her connection to Link and Finn played on her mind as she stripped off her underclothes and stood beneath the warm and indulgent spray. The grime of the Ring and ship life washed down the drain in rivulets of gray and left her skin, once again softly pink. The warmth seared the grazes of bullet wounds and shrapnel kisses and the caked-on blood slowly faded in ribbons down the drain. Her hair, less silt gray, her muscles less tense.
“What do you know about Saturn Rising?” The question cut the stillness as Finn rushed in, book in hand and glasses fogging from the bottom up. He tore them off and began flipping pages while steadily approaching the open tiled semicircle where she was unabashedly facing him beneath the spray.
When he did look up, his throat contract in a hard swallow, the book softened in his hands. Eyes lingered; lips parted. She raised her eyebrows and thought of how many other men she would have killed in such a situation.
“Saturn Rising? Is that what you call it?” she said and looked down below the heavy volume to his very unscholarly reaction.
“I—apologies—” he fumbled and left the room with the stiff-legged pace of a man who’d encountered an immobile wall and was forced to go someplace else.
Laria stared after him and scowled. “Years alone in a monastery and that’s your response?” A pause from the
“I’ll speak to you when you’re dressed.”
“Men are stupid.” She grumbled and toweled off.
When she rejoined the group in the main hall, Link sat playing Druidroll with Rhea over the checkered octagon, both strategizing over the next three moves. Finn was at the table, a cup of tea going cold in front of him, his eyes cast deliberately down into the pages of the book.
“How was the shower?” Link asked with his eyebrow raised.
“It was wet,” she said, ignoring Finn.
“Good, I hope you used soap, you smelled.” Link smiled and made his move. Rhea’s eyes scanned the board.
“You’re not exactly a bed of roses yourself,” she retorted.
“Well, you could have asked me to join you—save some water.” Link sat back and looked at her. Finn cleared his throat. “Or was it too crowded in there already?”
“Don’t be a dick.”
Rhea giggled and made a calculated move, taking three of Link’s pieces at once.
"So, what did you find out, bookie?” she asked with the sting of a woman rejected and sat in the farthest seat from him, legs folded, fingers combing through her wet hair. Finn watched her disinterested grooming over the top of his glasses and looked away, again his thoughts distracted by the memory of her water-warmed skin.
“Saturn Rising,” he began.
Rhea looked up from the board and her post victory smile fell.
“You know about Saturn Rising?” she squeaked.
“What’s Saturn Rising?” Link asked and looked between Finn and Rhea.
“I know what it’s not,” Laria said and withdrew her moonblade to clean beneath her fingernails. Finn blushed and redirected.
“Saturn Rising is a celestial event that happens once in a thirty-year cycle. Mostly it’s insignificant and passes without anyone knowing. While the event usually has epicenters, the locations are usually out of reach for our traveling tech. But this cycle, this Saturn Rising, is happening within the next few days. Here, inside of The Rings.”
“Uh, OK? But what is Saturn Rising? Like a solar flare? A reversal of poles?” Link asked.
Finn shook his head, “It’s hard to explain. Imagine a shift…a sort of—gathering of space and time.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It provides possible doorways, to other worlds. Sometimes even different times.”
“Ugh, could we talk about this after food?” Laria said and threw back her head. Finn scowled at her, knowing she was downplaying his intellect out of retribution, so he ignored her.
“Here,” Finn said and stood up. He took the table cloth and gathered it. “Imagine this is space—”
“Can we imagine some food to put on it?” Laria countered.
Finn went on without acknowledging her hangry fit.
“Now, space and time sort of—undulate.” The word was sensual as his long fingers played with the silken material in soft waves. Laria watched them with entirely different thoughts in her head than space portals. “During a Saturn Rising, the fabric folds over itself. It’s believed that in these moments, people are closest to their true selves, and that we solidify into who we are in these moments of fold—”
“Ferking astrology,” Laria scoffed.
“When Saturn was first being colonized, Prophetics postulated that during one of these folds, A Conduit could be used to open a sort of slit in the fabric, and a person or ship could hop across the fold into the other place in the universe. Rhea, your father was the leading Prophetic in the study of Saturn Rising. I’ve read that he may have even been present the last one.”
Rhea blushed and her dark eyes sank into Finn’s.
“Hop into another place in the universe?” Laria chided. “Sure. I’ll just pop on over a billion light years to the neighbors for a spot of tea—”
With an ease that should have been impossible, Finn took the knife from her hand, pickpocket speed.
He spun it in his long fingers with an agility she hadn’t know he’d possessed. Holding up the folded fabric, he gently perforated the two layers.
“One side is our world,” he looked around the fabric to where the knife protruded. “The other side is a different one.”
All eyes stared at him. The room fell eerily silent.
“So, Rhea knows how to find the…well the knife in this case? The Conduit?” Link said.
“If D’Sol’s theory could be believed, yes,” Finn said and laid the table cloth back down, the holes now spread wide from one another. “In the same way he found the last one. I think it’s in her genetic code to be drawn to the anomalies surrounding a fold.”
“Why in Kronos’ name would anyone want to jump across time to some place they knew nothing about?” Laria asked.
Finn held up his finger and an excited glow lit his eyes. “Ah! Beautiful question!” Laria blushed inadvertently. “D’Sol believed that on this particular rising, the cloth would fold back to Earth. He writes here that an anomaly occurred last time, thirty years ago, wherein something came through the fold and that the universe would naturally seek to fix the balance by repeating the fold on the next Saturn Rising.”
“Uh—” Laria’s disbelief hung on the air. “Earth was destroyed thousands of years ago.”
“Well, technically it still exists, it was just—uninhabitable. Or it was when humans left it. D’Sol argued that it could be a much-recovered planet and due to the difference in Saturn’s years versus the Earth’s, it would have had time to recover.”
“Wait, are you saying the Earth could be livable, again?” Link abandoned the game.
“What would that matter if it was? We can’t get possibly get back there. It took people thousands of years just to get to Saturn, to set up operations…to start over. You’d never have enough fuel to make it there, let alone the life span to survive the trip.” Laria injected harsh reality into the hopeful glow.
“Unless the trip only took a few minutes,” Finn whispered, leveling his eyes on her “Across a fold of space.”
Today is my mom, (Christine Wickstrom’s) birthday, so before I get all poetic on your asses, let us take a moment:
Here’s to another trip around the sun with the woman who loved, fed, raised, and let me survive my teenage-hood. You’re a spiritual whirlwind, a passionate crusader, the raucous laughter I hear in my own voice, and the sturdy rock on which I was built. Also, sorry for using the word ‘asses’ up there…and again just now. Have a lovely day, take naps, eat good food, enjoy the sunshine and the new dawn of spring. I love you to the moon and back again.
And now, this:
They used to say,
over coffee cups
behind her turned back
that she was an old soul
Even at six
when she struggled to sit pious
in pews too hard for anything
Or dreamed beside lazy rivers
in tall, cool grass
feet barefoot and setting roots
in worship of the bigger gods
An old soul, she thought, was
used, misused, tarnished
worn thin like soles
on the bottom of shoes
She thought her soul
looked like beaten leather
and scarred with use
Everyone else got a new one
right out of the box
the day they were born
the 'new soul' smell still clinging
smooth, shiny, glowing
with kinetic possibility
But what choice did she have?
Old was far better than none.
Six turned to sixteen
and all the years blended
in hues of decisions
and roads taken
the ones where she felt,
memories walked beside her
and footsteps recalled
and every where felt like home
in far off rooms of her old soul.
Sixteen to thirty
and on to forty
and on, and on
and her dented soul carried
tears and laughter
just as well as any other
Because new souls, she learned,
were breakable and brittle
they faltered in storms and
dented at the slightest strike
In the same span of years
the glittering glow of the new
was thin like a grocery store bag,
plastic urban jellyfish, aimless
and at the whim of every breeze that blew
But old souls
are stalwart souls
They grounded roots
feet in dirt and
sturdy branches rising.
Fingers tasting every flavor of life
without being swayed to break.
Old souls have lived it all before
and are wise to the ways
of errant breezes and
the fickle affections of years.
Old souls, she learned, came back
loved and experienced once more,
into only those vessels
strong enough to carry them.
I’m not going to lie, I’m a lazy bastard some days. And I’ve got plenty on my plate to make me feel justified when I rehash an old blog, especially if it still fits with what I’d like to talk about.
This, being April and the start of the Writing Conference Season (I’m not sure if that should be a capitalized title, but it seems like an event so…I’m going with it) I thought it would useful to budding writers out there to go over some conference basics as well as some advice that has really helped me get the most out of them. This also being a totally new era, I’ve added some modifications to reflect our new Zoom/Teams lifestyles (not NEARLY as cool as a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle).
So, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writer’s conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.
How do you choose which one to attend?
• Firstly, most conferences, at least since last year, have had to switch to some type of online format or perhaps online-in person hybrid to make accommodations for safety during the pandemic. So, the good news is, you may not have to shell out so much for travel expenses as they can be taken from the comfort of your home. Bad news is that you’ll still be at home and all the challenges that can go along with it. I’ll touch more on that later on.
• If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference, along with which classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
• Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America used to host in fun and far-off lands like…San Diego and…New York City…*le sigh* remember travel? Now things have changed. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s Wordsmith Institute’s Romance Writing Conference online and it was simply amazing. (they are offering the conference again this year and here is the linkhttps://www.wordsmith.institute/writing-events—totally worthwhile. In the fall they host a Sci-Fi conference that is equally engaging and informative). Genre specific conferences are awesome if you’re looking to polish skills or start out in a new genre that you don’t normally write in. Don’t be afraid to flirt a bit (outside of your genre, that is *wink)
• If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
How do I get the most out of my conference?
• Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes (or, via online conferences, log in with only dress clothes on your upper half). They start the year before, during writing when you self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
• Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter or trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. Why do athletes cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better in all aspects of your work. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
• Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
How do I not get overwhelmed?
• For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I’m a classic victim of; “I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes!” Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into a self-made mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own.
Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round. This is especially true for online conferences! Take the computer to different rooms (if they’re still quiet) or outside if available, take walks in between sessions, take eye and body breaks (look far off for a spell, or ‘rest’ your eyes away from the screen, get up and stretch as often as available). Its’ almost like interval training—the space between, the recovery is what sets you up for the next round, so take it.
• If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing beforehand. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
• If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
• Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (or conversely at home for online conferences—having my own espresso machine) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you’ll have things to do the next day and Underoos will stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail.
To conclude, I’d like to share one of the best lessons I’ve learned from conferences.
For every conference I attend, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.
The whole that is me as a writer.
And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience.
Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school brown-nosing self.
Something happened one year, while at the meet and greet “networking” event. I found myself long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field. I was mentally exhausted, untethered and I felt like I was on emotionally shaky ground. I realized after a long day of learning and being ‘on’ that I didn’t want to be there.
I didn’t understand my limits or that honoring them was at the core to being successful at a conference (and let’s face it, in life)
I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.
But…the more stories I heard, the more classes I took, the more advice I tried to apply—the less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.
Until everything was just noise and words.
Then I learned a secret.
You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it.
Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scene. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans. And it comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.
During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write.
If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes.
Did I miss a little of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. Conferences have given my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls.
In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.
I had to make it OK for myself to listen to that want, in order to get the most out of my time at conferences. These events open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson.
Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds.
So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired.
Today, I am pleased to feature the work of a stunning poet from India, Sourav Sakar. Sourav is a graduate of University B.T. & Evening College and received his post graduate from St. Josephs College in Darjeeling. His poems have been published in England, India, Bangladesh, America, Canada, and Trinidad. He is the author and creator of the Dead End Poetry Movement which you can follow here: https://www.facebook.com/Sourav-sarkar-poetry-794116610755710
Also, a gentle reminder that I will be reading my short story “Rinse, Reincarnate, Repeat” at CopperMuse Distillery this Sunday (March 28th) from 4-6. If you are in the Fort Collins or Northern Colorado area, I’d love to see you there. Along with a fun little story about God, Love, Stardust, Split-Aparts, and dogs, this incredible distillery will be featuring a special cocktail to go along with the story.
And now, this beautiful selection from our friend, Mr. Sakar:
Your presence is a gift to the world
You have two options here to live
Whether you be a slave of a follower of your own
Suppose you are a young bird travelling light years through time
And spreading magical sprinkles
To acquire living
Suppose yourself also to be cloud
Wallowing forest fires;
You motive will determine to move towards
Deserted roads or to a new destination
Then you will hear the sound of winds clashing together violently
You will be detached and secluded
Having no sense of organ
You may think about aesthetics
You have to take over the state of being alive
You have to break that metallic surface that is self made
Quick announcement in today’s blog: If you are in the Fort Collins or Northern Colorado area, I will be doing a live reading of my short story “Rinse, Reincarnate, Repeat” in partnership with CopperMuse Distillery (https://www.coppermuse.com/) on March 28th from 4-6pm. Along with a fun little story about God, Love, Stardust, Split-Aparts and Dogs, this incredible distillery will be featuring a special cocktail to go along with the story.
And now, this:
Part three in the continuing saga. Today’s excerpt is a bit longer… Because, I couldn’t not introduce Finn O’Toole. If you need help catching up, here are the first two installments.
“Have you any idea what you’ve just done?” T’Elliot’s voice snapped onto the com before Laria had a chance to change Walt’s course.
“Look, Telly, if you didn’t want those men to get shot—”
“And stabbed,” Link added, unhelpfully.
“—they shouldn’t have shot first. This ain’t no sandbox on Iapetus, you had a bounty—” Laria's throat constricted. “We took her.”
“What you did is put this whole solar system in jeopardy, maybe the whole universe, you worthless Mutt!”
“Ease up, Telly. I gotta long memory and I’m likely to see you again before those kinds of words get forgotten.”
“She isn’t just some map! That girl is incredibly important!”
“So says the payment,” Link spoke now.
“And did you ever stop to wonder who was paying for her?” T’Elliot’s voice got quieter. “Or why so much was offered?”
“I dunno,” Laria scowled at Link. “Did we think about that?”
“The men, I can forgive you for. They were idiots and shoddy pirates at best, but if you bring her back, I’ll forgive the debt you owe.”
“I don’t owe you a kronosdamn thing,” Laria said and swung the ship across two vectors to reach the adjacent ring, slightly off course for Titan. She needed to think.
“What are you doing?” Link covered the com with his hand and looked at her.
“What are we doing? Who’s paying for this girl?” she whispered back.
“I am not a man to beg,” T’Elliot interrupted their conversation, more calmly than before. Laria could picture him putting his bald forehead to steepled hands and sighing into the holy space of what usually amounted to a hypocritical prayer. “But, please, Eularia Longfellow, bring her back. We have to keep her safe.”
“Safe from who exactly?” Laria said. Silence filled the space between the orbiting ships. “Who is she, Telly?”
“She’s the map.”
“Yeah, well that means about gorseshit to me right now. I don’t need—”
“To the Conduit.”
“Could somebody please tell me what the ferk that means?” Laria yelled. Link shrugged. Rhea smiled at her from her bound position in the back chair. A knowing smile. A map at peace with herself and her silence. T’Elliot broke the confusion first.
“The Conduit is the tool that opens the portal—”
Static. Silence. A slight tremor in The Ring. Laria looked behind them to see a ripple in space from where they’d just flown. A blossom of orange in the dark sky. A ship, snuffed out, leaving only the burning ember of wreckage.
“Holy Ferk,” Link said, staring with wide eyes.
“Kronos,” Laria breathed and immediately hit the cloaking button, bathing her ship, Walt, in the soft blue glow that hid them from sight and enveloped them in a forcefield. She redirected course immediately, causing the ship to swerve down and below the ring-way.
“What are you doing?” Link yelled, not buckled and tumbling around the cabin until she righted the ship in its new course. “You put us in cloak and we’ll never have enough fuel to make it to Titan!”
“We’re not going to Titan,” Laria said.
“What? But the paycheck!”
“Somebody wants her, or wants to kill her, bad enough that they blew up a whole ship in the broad light of space. And I’m not getting blown up today, Link, so sit down and shut up.” She programmed in new coordinates, factoring in the tremendous cost of energy and fuel to the cloaking apparatus which wasn’t exactly sanction. They had a two-hour range, and only a few ports that might be safe. Once word got out that T’Elliot’s ship had been destroyed and they were the last ones in contact with it, those few ports dwindled to one, and Laria’s cheeks warmed at the last option.
“Mimas,” she whispered.
“Mimas? Why Mimas?” Link said buckling up and settling in to help run the diagnostics that would keep their cloak from burning up too much fuel.
“The Library is on Mimas,” she said simply.
“Finn O’Toole is on Mimas.”
She scowled at Link.
“Does she ever smile?” Rhea sang from behind them.
“If she ever did, it was probably on Mimas,” Link chuckled.
“Mimas is overlooked and out of the way. It’s an orbital sanctuary, has a re-fueling station, and The Library will have information on what in the hades a Conduit is, and why it’s worth so much money and death.”
“And Mimas has Finn O’Toole.”
“Shut up, Link.”
* * * *
“My old friend!” Link shouted and raised his arms, as if it were his home that Finn O’Toole had just walked into, and not the other way around. “It’s been too many turns!”
“Has it?” Finn said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s not enough.” He searched the sky to assess any danger his loud-mouthed, former school mate might have brought with him.
When Link came to town, it was usually followed or preceded by some sort of mayhem, and usually in the form of blaster fire. Of course, it also meant that Eularia would be with him. And that’s where he directed his attention next; to the ship’s loading bay, opened wide like a great yawning mouth. A small, dark-haired girl walked a pace behind Link, absorbing the sky and surroundings like someone who’d been too long in space. Or someone who’s mind was not completely in this orbit. Her small feet took heavy steps as though they were her first. Interesting as this girl’s clandestine and tranquil manner was, he was really hoping for a scowl, from someone more uniquely beautiful and rough.
Finn had been kept away, at Eularia’s blaster length, for their first few years. It wasn’t a surprise; she trusted so few. But he’d discovered her soft fondness for the written word and through books, had been able to bring an unguarded smile to her face on more than one occasion. Since then, he’d judged his worth on how often he could make her smile. It meant bringing out some of his rarest books, or reading to her while she pretended to be asleep in his dilapidated hammock by the high window of The Library.
He still recalled the last time they’d visited him for Sanctuary. He sat below her, reading. And as his persuasive words drifted up, followed by his gaze to light on her resplendent form, she draped one long arm over the side, a beautiful wide smile on her lips and his heart fell. Her fingers gently tugged on his curls and she pulled him in for a warm kiss before retreating back into the woven cocoon.
“I love when you read to me,” she whispered.
The destruction of his heart was complete in that moment. Finn stood no chance at ever living through her. Only five or so times they’d met in the last few cycles, and he looked forward to each and every one. Did she ever feel this way? The heart pounding anticipation of just being in the same room?
Link roused him with a knowing shove.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be here. She’s powering the decelerators down. We had to ride the last six orbits in cloak and Walt’s a bit hot.”
“Why in hades were you in cloak?” Romantic thoughts of Laria drained from Finn’s mind as quickly as they’d spread. He examined the sky again.
“Oh, am I supposed to ignore that sad puppy face you were just making when you thought I came alone?”
“I don’t—I don’t know what you’re—who’s this?” Finn asked, sidestepping Link and offering his hand to the young girl who held up her metal-clamped wrists in response. “Why’s she bound?”
“She is our bounty—least that’s what I thought she was this morning, but Longfellow is having inner turmoil over the matter. So naturally, she’s come looking for comfort.” Link said with a wry grin and wiggled his dark eyebrows in Finn’s perplexed direction.
“Bounty? But she’s just a child—and what do you mean by comfort—”
“My name is Rhea D’Sol,” Rhea cut in and beamed up at Finn. She had to look quite a way up. He stood taller than most, lanky and in possession of a wild mop of curly hair, glasses and a regimented bow tie, Finn wasn’t the kind of man women sought comfort in. Least of all women like Eularia Longfellow
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he tried to shake her hand again and turned back to Link. “Really? Are the binds necessary? We are not barbarians here. You’ve stepped off of your ship and onto my grounds. And I don’t hold with detaining prisoners in The Library. You know the rules,” Finn said, quiet but stern, and Link merely shrugged his shoulders.
“Hey, bookie, take it up with the Captain. I’m sure she’d love to have you boss her around.”
Finn swallowed hard and looked to where Eularia had finished camouflaging the ship from overhead view and now strode across the flight deck, Walt’s hull door steaming closed behind her. The evening Mimas winds blew her hair across her heart-shaped face and the light of the setting star lit her skin in a warm golden glow.
“Pull your thoughts outta your groin and back into your head, bookie, and try breathing with your mouth closed,” Link whispered up to his ear.
“She’s like an angel,” Rhea whispered in reverence.
“She’s no angel,” Link answered though similarly heart struck at the sight of his captain and her determined gait.
“What the ferk are you all standin’ around for?” she scowled. Finn smiled goofily at her before composing himself with a serious throat clearing.
“Captain Longfellow, I don’t think I should have to remind you that The Library es expiabat sanctuarium ab nocere.”
“’S that how we’re starting? Latin? After the kronosdamn day I’ve had?” she snapped.
“Apologies, but the rule still stands,” he said. The quiet velvet of his voice offered more reprimand than she knew how to handle. She cleared her throat, shifted a bag over her shoulder, and looked at her scuffed boots.
“I—know, I’m sorry. You’re right. She’s not really a prisoner. She’s just…a huge pain in my ass.” Laria cut away the weak bonds with her moonglass knife and Rhea rubbed at the swollen skin.
“How do you do that?” Link whispered and nudged Finn in the ribs, hard. “She’s never apologized to me!”
“You don’t deserve any apologies!” Laria yelled back at Link. “Sanctuary from Harm has saved our asses more than once, and I think there should be some honor amongst thieves. Even poor excuses for them like you! Fuel the ship, laser brain.” She brushed past the group and stepped through the carved stone door before the blush on her cheeks could incriminate her further.
“I like the Captain when she blushes. She’s very pretty.” Rhea skipped along behind her.
“In a cut-your-digit-off-for-touching-her-thigh kinda way.” Link muttered.
“There’s nothing wrong with having boundaries.” Finn smiled; secretly happy he’d never suffered that fate.
“I’ve worked with her for eight cycles and not once has she ever taken my advice, Finn.”
“And we thank the stars for that, or you’d both be dead by now,” Finn said, matter-of-factly and followed Rhea inside.
Good Thursday to you, Beautiful writers and readers. I’m still accepting submissions for this year’s Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”. Please send me your work (up to 3 poems, no more than 80 lines, with a short bio) to be considered for publication in the fall of this year as well as promoted on this site.
I’m so impressed and happy at the poems and writers who’ve been sending in their work and I will begin featuring them here on this blog beginning at the end of this month. For today though, you’re stuck with me.
Enjoy, and happy writing.
Things I Love, Great and Small
I buried my children’s fish today
in the frozen ground
where I had to chip through
the hardened clay
for a hole just big enough,
a palm’s worth
to lay the spine twisted body
of a once vibrant and
who flowed with grace and ease
for miles around his five-gallon domain.
I scraped my knuckles,
the ground was so hard
in late February
while birds sung above me anxiously
jumping the gun on spring
singing of life
While the cold air bit the tip of my nose
and melted frost
seeped into the knees of my pajamas
where I knelt in dead grass.
Why not just the toilet?
one easy handle pull in the warmth
of the inside?
Because things I love,
those I cared for and looked after
lives I've nurtured
don’t belong in the toilet
or the sewer
or the river of waste and unwanted.
Things I love,
now still and soul departed
belong in the arms of a mother
the nurturing life of soil beside
highways of roots
they belong to the body
of life and the circle
of growth and decay.
Things I love
great or small
deserve the care and effort
of kneeling and toiling
of cold knees and watering tears.
Things I love
are not waste…
are not forgotten.
no matter how great
I feel like this is a post I’ve probably written before, in one manner or another. But the truth is, that if you’re a writer, actively seeking to publish your work and/or build up your resume (let’s call it a ‘platform’), you’re going to have to deal, at some point in your process, with rejection. Hell, humans in general have to deal with it in all facets of our lives, and as we mature and gain experience we learn (or don’t learn) how to cope with it and move on.
*I should add a disclaimer: I’ve seen it happen, on the rare occasion that someone’s first draft of their first novel gets picked up by a publisher, right away. I’m happy for those few among us, but they are very rare outliers. The exceptions. The kid that blew the curve in class. And since they’re probably not in ‘need’ of writing advice–they can go on with their charmed lives. This post is for the rest of us*
A rejection letter for our artistic work (the meat of our souls if you will) is often harder to take than getting passed over for a promotion or shot down by that guy at the club (or wherever a person tries to pick up someone–I’ve been out of that game for many moons). Writing is, in many cases, a work of heart. And it takes guts and faith, and an ounce of reckless stupidity to throw it out into the world for other people to read (judge, pick apart, mock, etc.) So when we put our (he)art on the line and it’s returned with a swift and almost cutting “thanks but no thanks” it can often feel like we’re getting a red pen mark right through our soul. They didn’t like it. They don’t like me.
So here’s where I tell you the few things I’ve learned. Not just about in dealing with rejection but also how to submit in ways that will expand your confidence and the chances that your work will be seen and appreciated.
I could pound out a bunch of statistics on how many times major publishers rejected some of our favorite and prolific authors. I could tell you that some of those authors when into their thirties and forties (even fifties) without ever finding success in the industry, and I could give you a sunshine-up-your bottom pep talk about not giving in.
But I’m here to help. And I don’t believe in false praise, false hope, or anything false when it comes to finding the system that works for you. What I will tell you is this:
1.) Rejection is important to our growth and the quality of our work.
And there’s a blade thin line artists walk. Where the sting and wound of rejection can, in fact, topple us over and we may never rise again. It happens. All the time. So, when you think about being a writer—I want you to think hard about this one truth—
Your work will be rejected. Your words and ideas, your stories and the depths of your heart on page, will be thrown back at your feet and declared unwanted. But here’s the secret. It does not matter if they believe in your work. It doesn’t matter if they find it worthy. All that matters, is that you believe.
Your work is not you. So your novel was rejected and, if you were lucky (yes—lucky I said) they gave you some scathing or tepid advice about why. I’m willing to bet the editors did not say “You’re shoes are dumb and your breath smells like coffee farts. Oh, and your momma was a Clydesdale.” And if they did—that editor was having a really shitty day and you should send them some flowers—back on point. You are not your work. Rejection of your work is not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Everything in life that we want to get better at, takes practice, and the best practice includes mistakes and their inherent lessons. Your work is not perfect, but it is changeable. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Rejection of your work means you are out there, in the business building a better story and standing behind it. Don’t take it personally.
If they do offer you any advice, cutting or kind, PLEASE respond with a heartfelt thank you for their time in helping you become better. Assure them that you’ll consider their input and try again as guidelines allow.
And your mother doesn’t look like a Clydesdale.
2.) Submitting your work gets easier.
I remember the first few poems, short stories, and novels that I submitted, and it felt like sending my babies out into a wild cavern full of hungry wolves. It was heart wrenching to wait and equally devastating to hear that they’d been torn apart and spit out. But, with the aforementioned advice on rejection I’ve learned that a rejection notice isn’t a ticket to give up and stop trying. It’s one opinion, it’s one grade, it’s one lesson. And there are too many more to try to waste the time fretting over the one.
So, keep trying–submit like a goddamn machine. Schedule it, prioritize it, research possible avenues for your work. Put aside time each week to find the right places for your voice. Record where you’ve submitted, when, the cost, the call-back date, and the work (this is especially important if no simultaneous submissions are part of the rules *see #3 below*). The more you submit, the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to catch something. Don’t keep submitting to the same publisher/agent/journal/paper, with the same story/novel/poem/essay and expect different results.
3.) Read the Damn Guidelines and Follow Them As Though Your Life Depended On It.
Seriously, my pen pals, I cannot stress it enough. It irks the hell out of me to have a beautifully written story in a waste pile because you didn’t take the time to read the requirements, word count, genre, or editor’s rules. Sometimes one of the biggest filters any job/class/test/editor uses is the simple test of if the candidate can follow directions. So don’t be the douche that thinks you’re above jumping all the hoops. Show them respect by following the details. Then wow them with your work.
4.) Take the small wins
I don’t care if your local church newsletter published your tuna casserole recipe (how Minnesotan of you, Sarah!) or you had a haiku featured on a blog, or had a guest editorial in a nationally ran newspaper. Take it! Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back. These are the small steps that help you understand that your perseverance leads to good things and eventually, bigger things. Don’t go resting on your church cookbook laurels though. Celebrate and get back to work.
5.) Think about your endgame and plan accordingly
There are a lot of readers in the world (Hell, I’m one! I know you’re one!) which means there are eyes and minds out there for every story. Whatever your endgame is for your writing, decide early. Are you doing this to build a platform for future projects? Are you submitting because you love that particular journal? Is it for the love of your story? Or is it for profit or prestige. TO BE CLEAR: NEITHER OF THOSE ARE WRONG. But the path to each will be greatly different. So steer your submitting towards what you want to be when you grow up, whether that’s a world-wide best selling author, a respected indie poet, or someone who’s work affects even just one other person.
Well–That’s all I’ve got this month for advice on submitting. Do it prolifically. Don’t take rejection personally. Stay true to your voice and purpose as a writer and author.
Gentle reminder that I’m still accepting submissions for “Wilderness of Soul: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2021”. Check out the website for details and contact me with any questions.
And now… this.
Write me a poem about love
that doesn’t end
in the breaking of hearts
the rending of souls
once sewn together in trust.
Write me a sonnet
where all affection
a balanced scale
love gained and returned.
Write me an ending
not wrought with cages
and dungeons of guilt
and sharp glass
and bloodlines on wrists.
Write me a poem about love,
that doesn’t end.
Where every morning
breaks in brilliant hues of
I cannot,I will not
replies the poet
For I only write in truths.
“Where in the hades are we taking this—thing?” she barely acknowledged the bound and now gagged girl in the seat next to him. The gag had been Laria’s idea. Though their ‘package’ had come willing with Link’s smooth and deep-voiced insistence that she had nothing to fear, Laria couldn’t have her sobbing out thanks or screaming in alarm. They had enough ferking problems.
Getting off of T’Elliot’s ship hadn’t exactly been graceful and Laria suffered a deep gash when a lucky blaster shot had caught her arm as they’d tumbled through the airlock and activated the emergency escape course. Thank Kronos her ship was smarter than Link. The girl looked at Laria from beneath long, black lashes and a shiver ran beneath her suit. Those nebulous eyes, deep and trusting, reminded her of Edmund D’Sol. He had those eyes. Too soft for a place as hard as The Ring. Maybe this girl was a Prophetic also. Maybe she was just a girl that someone wanted.
“I’m not into flesh trafficking, Link, so you’d better have something else in mind.”
“Ugh, do you think me so crass?” Link placed his hand over the heart of his blue leather vest. Leather. Remnant of the creatures that had almost made a go of it in some of the settlements. Almost. Nothing survived out here.
“I don’t know what to think of you anymore,” she shook her head.
“Now that hurts! Eight years we’ve been out here and you’ve never cut me so deep.”
“We both know that’s not true.”
“I forgive you my finger.” He said and held up the shortened digit in salute.
“Forgive me? Listen, you deserved that ounce. Probably more.”
“And to this day I’ve learned my lesson not to touch unless invited.” He smiled. She felt a small tickle in her cheeks, as though they were trying to mimic it. “Is that invitation still waylaid, or can I expect it soon—”
“The girl, Link. Focus.”
He rolled his eyes. “Someday, Eularia, you’ll see me for the catch I am.”
“I already know of at least three things I’d catch from you so, no thanks. The girl.”
“Titan,” he said the word like a bitter taste in the back of his throat.
“Titan, the far side,” he repeated.
“Don’t like this. This whole thing. This isn’t Dolarian Chickens, Link! This is a kronosdamn human! Who pays for humans? No one good, I can tell you that much.”
“Do you want to get out of The Ring or not?”
Laria set the course to stay in the orbit of the second ring then spun her chair around to face the girl. Reluctantly, and with a scowl so fierce she might have been able to overthrow a government with it, Laria removed the gag from the small triangle of her face. The girl did not scream, only studied Laria, curiously.
“You are from a different people,” she said softly and in broken words. “Mismatched eyes, very rare. Are you alien?”
“Oh for…no! I’m a Mutt.” Laria shifted uncomfortably.
“But you have old blood…something…before Royal even—” The girl’s face was in awe.
“I didn’t ungag you to talk about a lot of old people that I wouldn’t give two shits for. I wanna know who you are.”
“I am Rhea.”
“Wow! The goddess? Funny, I imagined you taller.” Laria dismissed.
“Rhea D’Sol.” Rhea elongated the last name and stared at her pointedly. Laria cocked her head and shied away from the coincidence.
“And?” she said, as if that was supposed to mean something.
“I am the map to the Conduit.”
“Like I said, a map.” Link said, a wave of his hand and everything explained.
“A map is a set of coordinates, laser brain, not a kronosdamn person.”
“I am the map to the Conduit,” the girl repeated, as if for the first time. The revelation meant nothing to Laria even on the second go around. She sighed, the line between her eyes deepening.
“Right. A map. Cool—” she rubbed the line inadvertently hoping the headache behind it would magically stop. “Link. I swear to the gods—”
“I promise, its nothing shady!”
“If we get there and its some drooling old Royal looking for his kicks with a fourteen—”
“I am fifteen—”
“Year old kid,” Laria interrupted. “I will tie you to a lanyard and drag The Ring with you.”
“I swear, Eularia—”
“I will hit e-ve-er-y ferking rock in The Ring, Link.”
“Understood, Captain,” he leveled his deep brown, olive eyes on hers and smiled. Laria buried her head in her hands and nodded.
“I guess we’re headed to the dark side of Titan. Buckle up, ferkers. It’s gonna get rough.”
* * * *
“God is a mean-spirited, pugnacious bully bent on revenge against His children for failing to live up to his impossible standards.”
Evangeline A’Faust hated Saturn. Mostly, she hated Saturnians. But today she set into motion a plan that would allow her to leave this Kronos forsaken out-post, once and for all. Based on a prophecy she had intercepted in the grit of The Ring; she began planning the acquisition of an important map that would lead to a Conduit. A Conduit which, she hoped, would open a portal to a new planet.
She had always been underestimated; the spoiled daughter of the Supreme Council Leader himself. But she had no desire to take control of this planet’s dying population. She wanted a new solar system to mine. More bountiful profits to gain. She could be the Supreme Goddess of a new world if she desired, unfettered by the laws of this one. Evangeline smirked at the turbulent and impassable rings outside her window. The key to her power was on a ship not six-marks from them. By the end of the moon rise in Titan, she’d have the map and soon the Conduit.
Evangeline looked down at her manicured nails and picked a bit of crusted blood from one corner; murdering the Prophetics who knew of the Conduit had proven to be nasty, bloody business. But one she took pleasure in. Bloodshed could only lead to a higher purpose, higher than any who had come before her. And, after all, Saturn’s Children were born to be sacrificed.
When the vastness of space began to close in on her, she turned away from the viewing deck and clasped her hands carefully in front of her robes. She’d sent that idiot, Janus A’verlink, for the map, having learned by removing a Prophetic’s organs, one at a time, that it was in the possession of T’Elliot’s pirating crew. The Ring Rats were also attempting to at gain control of the Conduit, it seemed. Her back-up, because where Janus ‘Link’ A’verlink was concerned one should always have a back-up, was to have her best and most viscous marksman go after them and clean up any Ring Rat interlopers that might try to take control of the map.
It was a delicate balance to maintain. But Evangeline loved balance.
Just a quick reminder that the poetry anthology is accepting submissions until September of 2021. I’m already receiving some truly amazing work. In the next few months I will be featuring and promoting the poets who have submitted their work. I encourage you to support their work and check out their other writing endeavors. If you have something to contribute to the “Wilderness of Soul” please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, I’m offering up a couple of poems in semi-celebration of this strange month of ‘love’. Enjoy the broad spectrum of heart.
Growing a scar is hard.
The wound never stops throbbing
It’s enough to keep you awake at night
And irritated during the day.
The thrashed skin, angry and red,
Prying open at the slightest provocation
So you wrap the bandage
Good and tight,
Until the rest of the limb
Distal to the wound
Throbs with its chokehold,
Gasping for blood.
But no pain either
And no dead skin,
Hanging to catch on your clothes.
At every minute
Bump against door,
Or paper turn
We were girls in tall grass
Running with scraped knees
And dry throats.
Disappearing into the past
When things were simple
When life was sunshine
And big-dipper gazing
We were the past
I can’t quite recall anymore
But the whisper of memory I hold on to
Like the edge of a cliff
What if I forget?
Will we both stop existing?
Will we snuff out
Without the constant loop playing
Over and over in my memory?
Do I keep you alive?
Or does your memory keep me?
Your bike gears were gritty with sand
and the vinyl on your seat was cracked
so you never sat.
You were never still.
You were perpetual motion
And magic kept you aloft.
How still and fallen you lay now.
The earth is tender and cruel
Around bones that once
Commanded the rotation of the skies.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers these movies. I think, they may be partly to blame for my current profession (not the karate instructor—the other one, that pays even less). I loved the quirky, unrealistic way that the original frumpy romance novelist came upon adventure and began living the kinds of stories she only wrote about before. I also loved that by the second film we see her living this exotic and adventurous life and still suffering writers block brought on by lack of romance in her characters.
Because no matter how much adventure, vine-swinging, sheik angering, and Jewel finding you do, if you’re not in love with your novel, no one else will be either.
Bam. Mic drop. Blog finished, I can go take a nap….
*sigh* ok, I’ll elaborate.
Romance isn’t just about what happens between the sheets in a typical Harlequin. Romance is about creating a smolder, a heat, an intrigue between your characters, and between your story and your readers.
When I titled this blog, I worried I would lose those writers who focus on different genres and have little need for ‘romance’. Suck that (respectfully), we all need romance. Humans are born to seek out connection. Now, the phases of it and levels of requirement are different. But the truth remains that if there isn’t chemistry between your characters…be it platonic, hate, or lust…the story will fall flat.
Well, gee whiz, Sarah, what do I do about my Scifi Cowboy Inter-dimensional six book series where no speaking women exist because I’m THAT kind of author.
First of all—ugh, way to cut out 50% of the entire thinking, capable, and amazing population and demote us to some hot object in a skimpy space suit, so 1960’s of you. Secondly, your ‘lone star’ lead has to have some connection to someone or something. A loyal side kick, his long-lost brother, his space ship, or *puke* if you must, even some hot object in a space suit.
Otherwise, he lacks a pathway for your reader to connect to him. Characters that ‘don’t need anybody’ are fine, but you may find that attitude extends to your readers. They won’t need him either. Characters, even the lone wolf, are better if they really do need people and are just too afraid to say something, until somewhere in act three.
“Hurrumph—well, I write non-fiction only. There is no romance. Its fact and common knowledge. I do not deal in fluff.”
Lady, (or mister?) listen. The numbers of readers you will get from a book that is all fact and no heart (i.e. romance) will be disappointing. I can’t think of a single person who goes back to their high school American history book and eats up 100 pages on the American Revolution (I’m sure they exist okay, there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ informative book). I can, however, name numerous people all salivating over Hamilton tickets. Why? Because THAT story, makes us fall in love with the characters. The writer found romance in the people, situation, and actions of the time. It created a bond by connecting us to common feelings, needs, and emotions. And that’s what romance is really about in writing. Appealing to the human divine in all of us.
So, in this made-up month of love, explore your current work in progress and ask yourself if you are in love with these characters, their story. Ask if your character is hell-bent and heart centered on someone or something three-dimensional to ground themselves to. Is it throwing spice into the reading? Or is the plot fizzling? Where and how can you use romance to draw in and maintain your reader’s attention?
After all, romance is not romance, if it doesn’t have an anchor of reality at its heart.
One of the things I love most about poetry, especially the words you write in the heat or ache of intense emotion, is that even when you’ve healed up and haired over, reading those words makes that moment real and bright once again in your mind.
Hopefully, when those poems and words are the rock-bottom kind, we can look back, feel the gut-sting, and thank our lucky stars that we wrote the words down instead of burying them inside to fester. Because like trials and hardships, joys and celebrations, everything in life is in constant motion. We live in flux, and especially as writers, must catch the moments on their sharpest edge to be reminded, in the dull lulls between, that life is brilliant and biting, and every moment worth being present for.
I hope you all have some dark words out there, and by out there I mean on a page or in a journal and not sitting still inside your chest. I hope you all are walking in brightness now, with a touch of perspective and an appreciation for the battles that made us stronger.
And now, this:
Dawn breaks and the spectre of you lives in my chest ever-claiming, each cell of my useless heart
I wake and you softly stir the creature in my rib-bone cage a wooden spoon against an empty pot you push my blood to move to exist and though I so desperately fight against the notion, I blink
If only you’d leave me in peace I could go stop fighting, stop pushing stop throbbing heart beats against this useless existence and tissue paper flesh.
It goes on in this way from the rise of the sun cresting over head to when it crashes back down over the western sky
Still you stay
fighting to continue determined to survive against ribs that long to be still and lungs aching to be emptied one last time
Night comes like false reprieve bearing sleep, the closest I can come to separating my soul from your memory a little death where I can close my eyes and pretend the uplifting will finally cut the tie the chain of love, I so stubbornly tied.
But dawn breaks And the spectre of you still wakes in my chest.
That’s right! It’s the inaugural episode of The Beautiful Stuff’s Novella Series. Every third week of the month I’ll be running a small piece of one of my light-hearted sci-fi novellas for your mental break and enjoyment. Without further ado, enjoy!
Saturn Rising By Sarah Reichert
“You have not known what you are, you have slumber’d upon yourselves all your life.” W. Whitman
“I’m getting pretty ferking tired of your great ideas, Link!” Laria shouted over the sound of blaster fire. She dodged away from the shrapnel exploding by her head and cursed beneath her breath. “Half-assed, brain-frozen, Royal snot rocket—”
“Hey!” he yelled back from his crouch on the other side of the hallway. “Easy with the ‘Royal’. You’re gonna hurt my feelings!” he smiled the beautiful smile of someone who had an easier upbringing. She scowled back and yelled intelligibly as she emptied her cartridge into the hallway, leveling six of the ten armed men.
“Kronos, Laria—” Link barely had a chance to look through the smoke to see the rain of death she’d served, before she’d reloaded with an angry shake of her head and charged down the hall in the moment of confusion. He didn’t want to be accused of being cowardly on top of her tirade, so like any reluctant partner, he followed, covering her charge with his blaster fire. He winged one, caught another in the neck, and she dispatched the other two with frightening speed and the two moonglass knives tucked into the sleeves of her suit.
The gunfire ceased. The hall turned into a fog-covered graveyard and settled in eerie silence.
“That wasn’t so bad.” Link looked around with a nod and an impressed smile.
“You’re a ferking idiot.” She shoved his shoulder and moved passed him. “We’ll be lucky if that little welcoming party didn’t wake the whole kronodamned ship. ‘In and out, quiet as a couple of space rats!’ That’s what you said!” she swung her head to the left and right as she moved with stealth down the hall way.
“Well, if we’re taking count, when have I ever been right about the ease of things?” he smiled to her back. She felt it, like a warm pocket of laughter trying to caress. She drew her shoulder blades back to ward it off.
“Don’t try being cute, let’s just get the kronosdamned map and get out of here.”
“You’ve got such a lovely mouth.”
“I ferking hate you,” she said and ended the conversation by kicking in the door to the storage bay with the snapping cock of her recharged weapon.
The bay was dark and unguarded. Not something she expected to be sure. Especially with the line of goons that T’Elliot had stationed outside. She opened the shield bag from her utility belt and her eyes swept the room, adjusting to the dark quicker than Link’s.
Royal genetics, she sniffed as he bumbled into a crate beside her; useless in The Ring. Royals liked to shit on the Ring Rats and Gassers, but every Saturnian, from the Titans to the smallest moon outliers knew that the Royals were a dying breed. Remnants of an inbred class system, and not a hard day’s work among them.
“How big is this map?” she whispered, as Link reached for his light and swept it into the far corners of the crated room. A pair of eyes flashed back at them. Dark eyes…nebulous. The firelight inside them burned into Laria’s brain instantaneously. They belonged to a girl, small and buried in a ragged cloak, shaking and frightened and cowering into the corner. Her long, thin arms pulled into her chest as she tried to sink back into the darkness.
“Human sized?” Link said looking back at Laria with that same smile.
“I ferking hate you.”
* * * *
The power in the boosters of their small Titan port ship fired with a thrust ratio not available to most in The Rings. That was thanks to Link, unfortunately. Laria reasoned it was the least he could do, tinkering with her ship to make it faster, as it was always his fault they had to get away quickly.
But this. She clenched her teeth and her jaw popped. She didn’t even want to look over at him, sitting with that smug and stupid smile, arms above his head like he was just taking in the scenery on a space cruise.
He had no right looking like a cat that caught a canary. The phrase her mother had used was still stuck in Laria’s head. Kronos knew where she’d gotten it. Probably from the strange and rare set of books she’d had. Laria didn’t even know what a cat was. Or a canary. But it was probably what the Royal Council would look like if they caught them.
She’d be crucified as a pirate, even though it was the Royals’ practices that kept The Ring on the edge of the law with excessive taxes and ridiculous rules. Regulating the Ring Rats and Gassers to death while they reaped the profits of the planet. Preaching from pulpits that it was their honor, as Saturn’s Children, to be consumed by the planet for the survival of the species.
Link wouldn’t suffer if they were caught. He had Royal blood. Untouched blood. They’d just throw him back into his father’s compound and he would be forced to shape up and stop playing smuggler. Laria snorted; get a real job.
Everything and everyone in The Rings had its place to keep the balance. The rich stayed rich. The poor marched steadily towards death with Rasp Lung, or by Fiersprout when hydrogen leaked from inadequate equipment. Like her mother and countless friends, Saturn’s Children were destined to be consumed by their father.
Laria took a deep sigh; dropped her shoulders away from her ears and loosened her hold on the controls. All that lot; The Royals, the Gassers, Ring Rats, rules, regulations, and operations, wasn’t her fight and she didn’t want any part of it. She just wanted to earn enough to leave this Kronos-forsaken planet, all its jumbled-up masses of moons, and the kronosdamn endless nothing beyond. Where she’d go, she wasn’t sure; but she knew there was something else she was supposed to be moving on to.
She maneuvered passed the rocky streams of the innermost rings, undetectable through the murky atmosphere and untraceable in the orbit of Saturn. Her mother’s last words ran through her mind, sudden and uninvited.
You have to go back, Eularia. You have to lead them back, back to Janus. Listen to Whitman: This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, stand up for the stupid and crazy, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, re-examine all you have been told and dismiss whatever insults your own soul. You don’t belong here; you have to go back.
The words returned her to the dusty yellow light, the small, hovelled quarters of her mother who coughed up blue spittle from Rasp Lung and insisted she was all right even as she gasped between expunges. And the faded copy of verse, barely kept together with tape and glue. “spit and the grace of Kronos” her adopted father, a man named Edmund D’Sol, would say. He would visit on rare occasions and talk about mystical things and far off futures, always instilling his own stories of The Ring and the great Kronos.
Her mother would scoff; “Blaspheme…one god, one planet, many moons…gorseshit.”
“Don’t you believe in Kronos, ma?” Laria had once asked. Her mother spit on the ground, blue and oozing, and pulled the book from the shelf, one in a small mining community that knew nothing of books.
“I believe in Whitman.”
“Shhh! Listen—To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls—” and so she would go on. Expunging on how the desperate and sad, fond and sick, would go towards the best. Towards something great. Her eyes blurred against the endless darkness beyond, and the world that she hoped her daughter would make.
Look where it had ferking got them? Her mother’s stories of Earth were mirror images of Saturn’s plight. Greed and power. Powerless and death. Same ferking story, different planet.
Join me in a few weeks for the next exciting chapter. See you then!
From now until September 30th I will be accepting poetry submissions to be considered for The Beautiful Stuff 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.
This anthology will loosely follow the themes of nature, growth, transformation, self-awareness and personal resilience.
Poems may not exceed 80 lines, must be previously unpublished (unless it was on author’s website), and must be the original work of the author. Please send all submissions to: email@example.com, or via The Beautiful Stuff website: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/contact/) with the subject line “Wilderness of Soul Submission”
In the body of your email, please include the title; your poetry, your name, and a short bio. You may submit up to three poems for every entry. You may submit as many times as you would like, but please ensure that each submission includes different work. If your work is a simultaneous submission please let me know.
There is no fee for submitting.
Every submission will be read and, if selected, the author will be notified by October 15th, 2021 via the contact information provided.
Winners will receive 2 free copies of the anthology, promotion through The Beautiful Stuff Blog, and a chance to have the book entered into the Colorado Book Awards for 2021. Authors will also have the option to purchase more copies at a discounted rate.
You may email me or message me via Facebook with any questions or concerns you have about the contest rules and submissions. As usual, I welcome poetry along the entire spectrum of creativity (from the traditional to the strange, from the sparkly-sunshine to the darkly macabre) but will reject any work that glorifies or promotes extreme violence, racism, sexual degradation, or harm against another human being.
That’s the long and the short of it. So send me something good. Give me guts and heart, all the dark and light of your thoughts. I look forward to reading your poems and giving you a chance to showcase your work!
Secondly, I’m often falsely and overwhelmingly ambitious. Like my brain fails to conceptualize how much time 24 hours actually is, or that I’m a fallible human, or that I don’t live in a vacuum where I can do everything I only want to do every day. Still, consider this my “feeling cute, started as ambitious, I’ll probably delete it later” selfie.
(Thirdly: I hate selfies and actually, most pictures of myself. They’re too–static and flat–I prefer the reality of curves).
So, without further mumbling on my part, here’s the *tentative* plan for The Beautiful Stuff this year.
I will be opening up calls for submissions at the end of this month (January 21st to be exact) for the next Poetry Anthology, tentatively titled “Wilderness of The Soul”. Last time it was pretty much all willy-nilly and I broke book up by ‘like’ poems. This year, I picked a theme–well, because I’m all grown up and shit.
This year’s Anthology theme focuses on the aspects of Nature, Self-Discovery, Internal Conversations, Growth, Change, and Resilience through Hardship. I’ll be offering the exact details (length, format, bio information and all the fun legal small print) later this month so stay tuned for that.
Also beginning this year (also on the 21st–Jesus did I not realize there were twenty nine other days in this month?) I’ll be running a fun little slice of a novella I’ve written on every third Thursday, sort of like the serial stories one would follow in the ancient days of magazine subscriptions. I labeled it Dime Store Novel because the features are campy, light, fun and adventurous. If you are interested in contributing to this experiment, reach out and lets taco about it. Yep. I meant taco.
I am entertaining the idea of having guests bloggers (I have a limited number of posts available for those interested and with something Beautiful-Stuff-esq to contribute). More on that to come in February.
Lastly, I will be running a poem or two every month and I encourage your feedback, sharing, and comments on those. Other than that, I’m still reserving one slot a week for a writer-writing-about-writing essay to offer advice, tips, and tricks that have helped me.
And that’s my Blog Plan–I won’t bore you with the other list plastered to my wall at my desk about finishing three novels, earning my 2nd degree black belt, continuing to learn two languages, revisiting piano, and 6 to 8 14ers I’d like to climb. Like I said, ambitious to a goddamn fault.
Take care out there kiddies, start dusting off some of your poetry so we can get it published.
Comment, email questions, or contact me anytime through this site. I look forward to a not-too-cute-but-hella-ambitious-year ahead.
The eve of the New Year feels different this year.
We’re standing on the precipice of a deranged, hurtful, hateful, fearful time of existence, wishing that the turn of the calendar will somehow magically allow us all to step into a new world, free of the worries and trials nipping at our heels. The hope that a new vaccine, a new administration, a new awareness, a new number on the end of the date will lead to a year that won’t be a complete and total shit show is riding on our shoulders and settling into our veins, like a bandage to a too-deep wound.
Picture a six inch gash that needs hundreds of stitches, antibiotics, and physical therapy. We’re talking muscle deep. And the change from the 31st to the 1st is the Curious George band aid you got from the elementary school nurse.
I’m not saying this to be a Debbie Downer.
I’m saying this to be cautious (Cautious Kate?) that a socially constructed but otherwise meaningless mark of ‘time’ doesn’t determine a great paradigm and brink-of-destruction shift.
I’m saying this to tell you—if you need that date to start a different way of doing things, then Hu-fucking-zzah to you and get on it, Girl (or Bro?) but don’t think that the minute shift to a new year is going to change the world itself.
That calendar flip won’t do anything until we change.
Until we start giving a damn about other human beings.
Until we start understanding if our environment dies, so do we.
Until we start to understand that science seeks truth and power corrupts.
Until we stand on our own, think for ourselves, and treat everything we touch (physically, mentally and emotionally) with the same care, empathy, and love as we would our own child (or cat if you’re a fur momma) our world will never improve.
I’ve thought often of ending this blog in the past year. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing. One voice shouting into a vast expanse of darkness. One voice raised against so many overpowering facets of corruption. One voice aching for connection.
But I know I’m not the only one. And as long as our collective lights continue to shine, there will never be complete darkness. So I will stand for another year. For another day. For as long as it takes until love overpowers hate, for as long as it takes for humans to wake up to the gift of their existence.
For as long as I draw breath, I’ll write. I’ll shine.
This next year will bring about more poetry as well as a new request for submissions from readers and poets for a second anthology from The Beautiful Stuff. There will probably be some ranting, some raving, and some venting. I can’t help that—and I’m not going to try or even apologize for it.
I’m also planning on running a ‘dime novel’ series that will include some weekly submissions of short stories (a la novella style) ranging from sci-fi/fantasy, to romance, to speculative fiction.
Stay in touch, and I’ll announce submission dates for not only guest blog pieces, poetry, and anthology submissions, but also for “dime novel” contributions.
Until then…keep shining.
If you must make New Year’s resolutions, don’t think about a smaller pair of pants, but how you can make your voice and your power bigger in this world. Don’t think so much about an organized closet, but an organized movement towards social justice.
Let’s aim our sights on living large of heart in this new year.
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:
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…
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.
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.
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Every year I learn something new from participating in National Novel Writing Month. This year was no different. This year, I learned that sometimes, the project you think is a total loss, is reborn into something amazing with a little time and added experience.
The story idea that I began the month with was an old short story I wrote before my children were born. That’s probably 14 years ago people. Nearly a generation. I don’t know what drove me to pick it up again. I actually don’t know what drove me to keep it. But there it was on my computer—converted from an older version of Word, ratty and thin, barely holding ink on a page.
I’d seen the file, hanging on the end of my groupings of files like an unwanted 41st wheel, always in my peripheral. There’s that really odd one. Yeah, the one I wrote when I was in massage school? All about the herbalist turned witch. The one where I was still clinging to my Anthropology degree and geeking out over the prehistory of Scotland and Norse invasions? The one with the Mary Sue characters that fell flat on the page and fit too perfectly into every stereotype a 20-something inexperienced writer would believe?
Some of you may be asking why I didn’t just start a new project. Some of you are probably wishing I’d just get to the point, since you’re reading this out of a strange sense of obligation.
Well, when I went into a blank document for this year’s challenge, with 2020 hanging like a wet and heavy blanket over my body, squelching (yeah, I used the word squelching—don’t judge me—that’s the kind of word that needs to be brought back into the vernacular) any creative fire that might ignite, I just didn’t feel like I could accomplish the goal. I needed a buffer. A little boost. Something I wasn’t tired of working on, something not always shouting in my face to finish it…
Something in my peripheral.
And there it was—over there in that file innocuously labeled “Scot1”.
On to my point—
Knowing it was a shitty short story didn’t dissuade me. Because, somewhere in my brain, I knew there was potential. And the only reason I knew that, was because (and here’s the point) in 14 years of writing I’ve learned stuff.
Since I wrote the story, I’ve taken numerous classes, conferences, and workshops, on everything from plotting and character development, to crossing genres and writing fight scenes. I’ve taken classes on editing and how not to write. I’ve written some novels. I’ve done a lot of hard cutting. I’ve explored different genres and played around with suspense techniques and “aha” moments. So when I saw this shabby little house-maid in the cinders of the proverbial fireplace, I looked past the soot and rags and saw the potential beneath, not because I’m all-knowing about what would work, but because I had learned, through investing in my craft, what didn’t work about it.
And maybe more importantly, that it could be changed.
So, what was lesson number one? Trust in the process of investing in yourself as a writer. Admit you don’t know it all, and that others have good advice to give. Soak all the information in, approaching each class or workshop as a beginner, no matter how many years you’ve been writing.
With knowledge, even the worst story can be made better. Knowledge also loosens the hold of fear that sometimes keeps us from progressing. Knowing how to cut and change becomes less heart-wrenching with the perspective of a better finished product. Knowing what makes a more interesting character, learning to take some of the polish off the Mary Sue, and turn her into more of a Jess Jones.
You can take a Snidely Whiplash and turn him more into…well…
When you give yourself the gift of knowledge, the list of what you can do breaks the boundaries of what you can’t.
Sometimes…you may even discover doorways that will bring over characters from other beloved series you’ve written…
So there you go—look forward to a future magical realism/Norse mythology mix up with a delicious little love triangle, and the potential for a new generation of crooked smiles and bouncy red curls.
As we move away from November, closer to the shortest and darkest day of the year, I can feel a collective sigh round the country. This year has been unlike any other, and although some of the turmoil is behind us, a mountain still looms in front of us. We aren’t even out of the proverbial woods on many of the disruptive and soul-shaking happenings of 2020.
COVID is still raging, probably more so because of the holiday season.
Racial Injustice is still scarring and poisoning our society.
The rich are getting richer (glad to see the stock market is so healthy while 1 in 3 American school-age children are suffering from food insecurity—are we still calling that kind of shit a ‘win’ for the economy?) The poorer are falling into depths of poverty they can’t begin to rise from.
The world’s still burning and flooding. Freezing and drying up in ever intensifying waves, destroying entire habitats and species within shortening periods of time.
Did I come here to remind you of the dumpster fire caught in a tornadic shit storm that is our world? No, I did not.
I came here to remind you that you are a vessel of light.
I came here to remind you of your potential to shine even in the face of unsurmountable difficulty and hardship.
I came here to remind you that your attitude, actions, and struggles matter and can make a difference.
Am I preaching to go forth and be a Pollyanna, ray-of-delight-and-positivity, spreading goodness and sunshine to the masses so that they can catch your optimism like gonorrhea on spring break?
No. Jesus Christ, no. Certainly not.
Look, we’re all reeling. We’re all coming up out of the dark of our own prisons. We’re all trying to find balance.
I’m just asking you, in the gloom and confusion of your current state, to get out of your own head for a goddamn minute. Get out of your own misery and extend your hand. Haven’t we been marinading in our own suffering long enough? I’m saying take a break—go marinate in someone else’s—(ew David, that’s gross).
Here—let me try that again—
Do something for someone else. Donate a little more if you can (be it time, money, or resources). Bring your elderly neighbor groceries or offer to put up their holiday lights. Send care packages or thank you notes to your local hospital for the doctors and nurses who are worn thin. Call your mom. Call your best friend. Hell, call your best friend from high school. (Just–don’t call your ex—nobody needs extra shit in an already rampant shit storm). Patronize your local businesses for the holidays and take out.
None of that appealing? Not feeling THAT altruistic? Ok, feed the birds outside, especially on cold days. Spend ten extra minutes playing with your dog (but don’t break your foot—Christ Joe, do I need to pack you in bubble wrap?) or be ignored by your cat, more often…perhaps at a closer distance. Read your kids an extra story. Hug them twice as long as you normally do.
Still not ‘up’ for that challenge?
Then at least wear your goddamn mask, wash your hands, and give people space. Stay home if you’re sick. Respect people’s level of comfort—do not call it unfounded or fearful if they choose to be cautious. Call it a civic duty to keep others safe and to not create more hardship to our front-line workers and medical professionals. Being a good citizen, respecting others, and thinking about the well-being of our fellow humans should never be seen as fearful.
That’s what being a light is about. Thinking about someone other than yourself. And that, my friends is the best gift you can give.
If you can do that…just one or two of those things, I guarantee something amazing will happen. The world won’t just look a little brighter. It will BE brighter. You will feel it in the center of your chest. You’ll start to see the world as a series of choices, opportunities, to glow a little warmer. To spread more joy. And I can’t think of a world more in need of the simple, small acts of kindness. No Pollyanna pigtails and sunshine yellow dress required. (Unless you already have the outfit and bitch you look fine in it—then rock that shit).
Go on now—get out of here and do something with your codger-ly, huff-ly, badger-ly self. Be a reluctant light if you have to. But be one.
This is a little piece I wrote many moons ago for my gig at The Northern Colorado Writers Writing Bug. I’ve elaborated because (well–it’s my blog here and I can write beyond 400 words if I damn well want)
I can’t think of a better day and year to re-run it. My parents are pretty amazing people, and having a third and unexpected mouth to feed didn’t make their life any easier. But I am eternally beholden to them for the sacrifices they made to raise my siblings and me. I’m thankful for the love and laughter they built our home around, and for constantly working towards a better life for all of us through perseverance, patience, and honesty. Even when it meant welcoming their unexpected third (ahem–that’s me) into the world with open arms.
So today, whether you are thankful for your family, your friends, or for the simple fact you have a roof over your head, don’t be afraid to send those feelings of gratitude out into the universe. Thank the health care workers and essential medical personnel who are wearing thin on an every burgeoning front line. Thank your veterans and firefighters, hell–thank your postal worker because–fucking elections right before the craziest season of the year am I right?
Thank the grocery store staff who spend hours and days on their feet with the public in a time of crisis, the countless other souls who’ve made do through insurmountable odds to keep us fed and with power, and educated our kids with a host of new and difficult challenges. Thank your neighbor for raking your leaves or rake theirs as an act of good will. Thank the food bank for taking care of people who, despite working as hard as they can, still need help, by donating your time, your food, or your money.
Though we cannot be together today, (and this goes for thousands of families across all states) our hearts are never far apart.
And for that, I am grateful.
Making Do and Giving Thanks
One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes. I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.
My father is, and always has been, a hard worker. He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. Their amazing resilience makes me tearful with pride now, as a parent myself.
Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything.
We were always fed. We were always clothed. We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer. We made do. When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do. When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do. When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.
I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books. I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind. Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons. My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes. They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen. They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time. I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything.
Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.
We made more than just meals from small staples. We made worlds out of our love and support of one another. My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us. And we made do.
Good Thursday to you, writers and readers. Apologies for missing last week’s blog. I could leave it at that. I could lie and say I was too busy. I could pad the truth and say I was feeling a ‘bit down’. But part of the problem with mental health awareness in this country is that we too often lie or lie by omission about it.
Last week I didn’t post a blog because I was recovering from an anxiety attack and suffering a depressive episode.
Wednesday, I couldn’t hold a solid thought in my head. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t predict when or how the next overwhelming wave of worry and tears would hit me. By Thursday, I felt like I had the emotional hangover of the century. The kind that leaves you with a raging headache. The kind that leaves you feeling empty and raw. Like you couldn’t bear to be touched, or spoken to, or even think of stringing together two sentences.
My anxiety was at a peak when I tried to voice my concerns and fears about the current state of our world. Some friends stepped all over themselves to shout out unsolicited advice, barrage me with guilt for not having hope and a sunny disposition. Tsk-ing their tongues at me for not being happy.
“Just smile” and “We’re all in this together” and all that bullshit.
If I had said I had cancer no one would tell me to take an Advil to cure it. No one would say I needed to re-examine my perspective to stop it’s growth. Yet, there it was, my virtual conclave shouting back all the answers I never asked for, simply because it helped assuage their own consciences. So that they’d feel as if they’d done their part to ‘help’ a friend in need.
And it got me thinking. About social media. About our current world. About what we do in our lives these days, as people, but also as artists, to find validation. See, I wasn’t looking for validation or rainbows or sunshine. I was looking for someone who was really listening, who was overthinking as deeply as I was. Who wanted more than a sound byte or click bait. Someone looking for a real conversation about our current addiction to opinions like ours. To admit that we’ve become so divisive that people are threatening others with guns, and running others over with cars, and all manner of horrible things because our individual perceptions of the ‘truth’ have been spoon fed to us by opposing sides in a virtual (read: NOT REAL) buffet of horseshit.
I’m not saying the truth doesn’t exist. I’m saying if you really want it, you have to make a concerted effort to seek it out. Know the perils of conspiracy theories and understand how to spot them, understand why they work on the delicate human psyche. Know that if something reads as degrading or judgmental of one side or the other, that it’s probably more opinion than fact and you need to get to the basic source of that pile of horseshit, not just take it at face value.
Where was I?
Yep. So we get on the FaceBook and the Twitters and we read the sites and clips that these super-smart algorithms have determined make us salivate the most, and they keep feeding us the sugary Captain Crunch of news until we’re so assured of our ‘rightness’ that anyone not complying with our view is a contagious carrier of the ‘wrongness’. Then its only a matter of time before someone is whipped up into a frenzy and runs their car through a crowd of peaceful protesters or shoots someone with a MAGA hat, or shuts themselves into an oval-shaped office, a la totalitarian coup style, crying like a toddler about voter fraud.
Sounds like we’re ALL just a bunch of sheep. But why?
Well, darlin’, these systems are smart as fuck. These systems are designed to be addictive. They’re designed to validate our existence, our beliefs, our lives and choices. My God that like button is a sweet hit of virtual cocaine. The ‘heart’ and ‘care’ emojis? Ecstasy, baby. Someone out there LOVES you.
What in God’s name does it have to do with the writers and artists among us?
Well, as you know I’d left all that bullshit for awhile and was actually more calm and centered for it. I only recently returned because I wanted to have a space for my author platform. Because, and this is the professional side of this post, you HAVE TO have an online presence to write. Or at least that’s what we’re told. You HAVE TO build up an audience. You HAVE TO market yourself. Sell yourself. Get a following, if you ever hope to ‘make it’ as a writer. This is a new world. If you can’t roll with the changes, you’re destined to be left behind. You’ll never sell any books the old way, idiot!
What do you want to do? Just write?
Because you love it. Because you…never…started writing for the profit…you just liked to write….
Wait…you liked to write?
See it’s all a big system. We spend so much of our energy, our time, our lives, our hearts, trying to forge these connections in a world that–by all intents and purposes, DOESN’T REALLY EXIST. We base our worth on likes. On followers. On the number of hits our website gets. And then wonder why we feel so empty and disconnected and never quite enough.
I’m off social media; for reals. You may still see a profile pic pop up across the Internet-o-sphere, but you won’t find my content behind it. My website contract ends in February. I’m not sure I’ll renew it. I started my platform because I was told I had to, in order to reach more readers.
Do I want people to read my work? Sure, if they enjoy it…if it feeds their soul and serves their happiness, absolutely.
Do I want to expose too-big-for-its-own-good heart and threaten my well being to do that? No. Not anymore. I want to write. My time is finite. I will not be around forever. When I’m gone, my books, my poetry, my writing, will all remain. My Facebook account will be deactivated. I will stop being worthwhile to their algorithm when I’m dead. But what I write, what I put on paper will carry on (if anyone still reads books by then).
I urge you to examine your life. Examine your addictions. Do you control the content of your life, or is it being controlled for you? Is that content controlling how you live your life? What you believe?
Blog posts here will continue until February. I’ll be re-running old favorites as well as interjecting some poetry here and there. I already paid for the year, I might as well use it to share the things I love.
Take care. Really…I mean that. Take care of yourself. Your real-life, human self. You are one of one. You’re more than just 1’s and 0’s in a giant marketing scheme. Go be a real-life human. Do real-life human things. Walk outside, go for a run, read a book, write something, nap, work, make love, eat amazing food–and don’t post a goddamn thing about it to anyone else. I assure you, it still happens even if your social media sites don’t hear about it.
Listen Kids. We’ve been going hard at it now for the past few months all about writing theory, types of writing, how to write, what to write, and on and on and on and on…
Today is the last Thursday before the election and it has been a crazy past few months. To that end, I would like to offer you a little bit more of the Beautiful portion of The Beautiful Stuff.
There are no exercises to do, no work-in-progress to compare and tweak.
No Bullet Lists
Just a poem or two I wrote while camped out in the Rocky Mountains for a few days, re-evaluating my writing and, in part, my life.
I hope you find repose in the next week or two. I hope you weigh what is good, and just, and right for all of our citizens. I hope you vote with the conscience of someone who cares for their fellow human beings and all of our quality of life. I hope you vote.
When it’s done I hope you can let the last few years of hatred and divisiveness go. Put it down. Reach across the chasm that was created by small-minded men seeking to destroy unity and human decency. Those who grew their power by pitting us against one another.
I hope you can find rest. I hope you can find beauty. I hope you find your voice and you use it to stand up against injustice, stand up for your fellow human beings, and stand together against hatred.
Here it is. Poetry
More Gravel Than Gold
I hope that heaven’s streets,
are more gravel than gold.
That the armaments are granite peaks
and the angels’ song,
I hope that heaven’s throng is more full
of friends than the righteous.
That the memories of Grandma’s hands
will be photos regained in focus.
I hope that heaven is made of home
more porch swing and creek than opulent spire.
That they’re waiting to hear my tires in the driveway
All right, listen. Top Gun did not have the best dialogue. At all. Like…not even remotely. BUT… I liked the headline so deal with it.
Today in the blog we’re talking about…well, your characters talk. Affectionally known as Dialogue. Writing dialogue like any aspect of your novel is an art, and one that will allow you to not only reveal character traits and all of those ‘shown’ details, it will also drive your plot. If you’re good at it, it will help your reader to know your character better and *gasp* if you have a flair for it, will provide extra entertainment. I’m a HUGE fan of witty banter when it’s appropriate. I’m a HUGE fan of letting dialogue tell the reader how two characters feel about each other.
Take this little gem from “Finding Destiny”: Hank and Daniel are two of my favorite characters to create a scene with. They’re brothers and love each other deeply. But they’re brothers, so that love is shown in obnoxious teasing. Take a gander–
“Everything OK?” Hank asked after an uncomfortable amount of silence.
“Yeah, I just… I just have this gala thing to go to for the university in a couple of days and, I… I’m supposed to bring someone.” Daniel paused and looked at Hank.
Hank took a moment to swallow. Then he batted his eyelashes and waved his hand in front of his face.
“Oh! I’m just so thrilled you’d ask!” he shrieked in a falsetto voice. “Oh! You’re so dreamy!”
Daniel threw a piece of bacon at him and laughed. “Not you, jackass.”
“What about Maggie?”
Daniel shook his head. “Maggie and I don’t really—”
“Do anything that requires clothes and public places?” Hank raised his eyebrow.
“We sort of haven’t seen each other since the once…” Daniel’s voice trailed off. He still didn’t feel exactly right about what had happened between him and Maggie, or how Destiny had witnessed the start of their one-night stand.
“No wonder she’s been shooting nasty glances at me the last few weeks,” Hank chuckled into his coffee.
Daniel sighed in exasperation. “I was going to ask you…if you’d mind…if I took Destiny.”
Hank inhaled his biscuit and started coughing. His face turned red and his eyes welled up. He looked sideways at his brother as he pounded his chest with his fist.
“Destiny?” Hank wheezed.
“Yes,” Daniel said, annoyed.
“Red hair, tall, drawly, hates-your-guts Destiny Harrison?” Hank took a drink of coffee to clear his throat.
“Yes, Henry! That Destiny.”
Hank held up his hand.
“First of all, there’s no need to call me Henry. Second, I thought you hated her, too. But mostly, why in the hell do you think I’d mind? She and I aren’t…like that.”
“Well, I didn’t know! You spend a lot of time with her. And I don’t exactly hate her. I just—” Daniel sat forward in his frustration and loss for words and looked out the window.
“Well, we only spend so much time together because neither one of us has a life outside of the shop.” Hank stopped with his coffee halfway to his mouth. “How embarrassing is it that I just admitted that?”
“It was pretty pathetic.”
“So? Do you think she’ll go with me?”
Hank shook his head in bewilderment. “I don’t know, Danny. What about that ‘hating you’ part?”
Daniel remained silent and watched out the window. What about that? He thought of her warm body pressed to his in the fervent moment of thanks. He thought of her shapely breasts beneath the nightgown, and the smell of her. The shyness of her kiss. The way she had gotten snippy when Maggie had stayed over. Hank paused at the unusual look of self-doubt on his big brother’s face.
“I think if you could get her in a dress, she’d do all right. Assuming she did say yes,” Hank said.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, displaced.
“Maybe if you ask her nicely…you know, not like you?” Hank said.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Well, you know…come down off of your high horse. Just a bit. And stop being such a surly son-of-a-bitch!”
“You sound like her now.”
“I’m just saying that a little honest humility and admiration goes a long way.”
Daniel stayed quiet. Humility wasn’t really his thing. He wasn’t very good at admiration, either.
Hank continued. “And if she says no, I can rock a strapless like you would not believe, girlfriend.” Hank snapped in the air and winked.
Daniel threw his biscuit at his brother with a laugh. “Shut up.”
So, we get to see some deeper dimension here, with Daniel’s secret insecurities, his blossoming interest in Destiny as well as Hank’s affection for them both. We set up for a minor climax (asking Destiny on the date) as well as establish the risk involved. All while doing it with a sense of humor.
The import aspects to remember in writing dialogue are below (been a while since I bullet listed for you)
Dialogue needs to be real. By that I mean if it is forced (for the purpose of info-dumping), contrived (how convenient to drop that info into conversation even though they had no other reason to talk…), or sounds like an outside narrator suddenly taking over your character’s body (Hey! Where did their drawl and/or British accent go?) your reader is gonna know. So make it a conversation.
As mentioned above, keep your character’s in their character. If they don’t normally say much, save the monologuing for others or some big reveal moment. Many a time I’ve had to edit a dialogue because I saw too much of me in there. Tricky me, trying to steal the conversation. This comes with knowing your character and what they would or would not say.
If the dialogue doesn’t do any of the magical things listed, (furthering plot, character development, information snacks etc) and its just in there to fill space or act as a buffer don’t be afraid to cut it.
Read your dialogues out loud! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure that they sound real and authentic to your characters and to the story. This is also a great way to catch mistakes and to ensure dialect and vernaculars are in place.
Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations and slang if it’s true to how your character talks. Destiny Harrison said “ain’t” a lot. Spell check hates “ain’t”. Doesn’t matter what the spell checker wanted, she ain’t changing for it.
I could give you a spiel here about dialogue tags (ie ‘he said’, ‘she yelled’) after your character’s speak. I’ve heard both sides. In my kids’ writing classes they are encouraged to use something other than ‘said’ to liven the action, express the tone, etc. In my adult-y writing classes, I’ve been told to cut the flowery bullshit and stick with ‘said’. The idea being that if your writing is good enough, the tone and character already established, the reader will read the dialogue in the feeling intended. My advice? I don’t like either of these approaches. Sometimes a simple ‘he said’ works, sometimes, I get bored as shit with that and when my characters talk in my head, they rarely just ‘say’ stuff. I may err more on the side of the flowery therefore, but I don’t do it so much that very ‘please pass the butter’ moment is fraught with tension.
Okay. That’s it for dialogue today.
I think…(she said with a gasp), that might even be the end of our writing series on the Novel! (she yelled?) I’ll check in on that and get back to you next week. Until then, go over your dialogues, check their authenticity and tone. How can you make them better? More real human-like? Read them aloud, don’t ALWAYS listen to your spell checker. Write. Write Write. Good luck out there. See you soon.
Good morning! So, here we are. Working our way through the bulleted list on Novel Writing. Today is about setting, but before I build up that world, I would like to remind you:
Keep in mind, there are many intricacies to writing a novel. It can’t all be learned in 7 points. Or 25. Or even 100. Most novelists have one or two ‘starter’ novels that never see the light of day. Because the process of writing a complete novel is, in itself, the real lesson of what does and doesn’t work. Until you do it, write it, fight through it, you won’t truly grasp which elements are most important, and how to get through the problems that you will inevitably face.
Now–on to Setting.
Setting is the world where your characters live, where the plot takes place and what influences those major themes. Setting includes physical space (mountains, city, country, house, street, etc), time period (modern day, future, Elizabethan England), multiplied by fiction and non-fiction (3050 space opera set on a distant planet versus 1944 Italy during the Second World War).
I am a firm and staunch believer that setting is, itself, integral as a character in your story. Setting will dictate so much of your novel. The physical and temporal surroundings of your characters limit or promote certain behaviors, patterns of speech, choices, and opportunities. The setting, say a creepy old house on the coast of Maine, can even be a character itself, lending an influential factor to the events that play out. (Wouldn’t be the same if Destiny Harrison had moved into a swanky new apartment in L.A.)
My first piece of advice for setting is that if it is someplace or some time you aren’t personally familiar with, do a shit-ton (yes, that’s a real measurement) of research. If you can (time-machines not withstanding) visit the place, the area. Get a feel for it. Even better, do it in the season or hour that takes place in your novel.
If you have a scene on the harbor at dawn, your description will be more apt if you’ve been on a harbor at dawn. If you’ve never seen the bursting yellow of aspens in October, it’s hard to capture the exact shade of gold against the pinion green.
Secondly, when building the world of your novel, utilize all the senses. How does the sunlight break over the mountain? In dusty, slow waves or in a brilliant flash? Does the air feel crisp on the tongue or heavy with heat? What do you hear? This all goes hand in hand with showing the audience, not telling. Jack didn’t feel the heat of the fire. The fire seeped beneath his skin.
Thirdly, when you approach setting it is VITAL to find the balance between description and information dump. A common mistake (in my humble opinion) in even the most prolific writer, is to go on a little too long building the “world moment” to the point the reader is bogged down or the pace slows. Now, I understand, that some novels require a good solid understanding of their worlds (often if it’s unfamiliar to the reader– ie a sci-fi/fantasy or historical fiction). But, if you can manage, feed these tidbits to the reader throughout. Think snacking not gorging. Offer what is relevant, what moves or enhances the scene, or gives hints or important clues for later on in the book, then draw back and let the audience digest it.
Setting is a great place to build imagery, be a little poetic, and really put your reader in the middle of your novel. Similarly, sometimes the most simple of descriptions can be effective so don’t overwhelm with too long or heavy paragraphs.
Make it a living, breathing entity of the book, something that becomes part of the whole in a way that is inseparable from the action, characters, dialogue and voice.
This week, look at your work in progress, pick out a particularly rough scene and ask yourself what’s going on with the setting. How can it influence or help your characters actions? Look at your longer paragraphs, are there moments where your readers might be caught in a deluge of description? Boil it down to the instrumental aspects of setting. What tone does it overlay? Does that enhance the other pieces?
Okay. Good luck out there. Let me know how it goes.
Good evening, my little writing gnomes. This evening I’m writing from the NCW’s writing fall writing retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. Firstly, if you’ve never taken a weekend, or a few days, to do nothing but devote time to your craft, I highly recommend you give it a try. When you aren’t weighed down by laundry, school emails, or cat’s randomly vomiting out food that they didn’t apparently feel like chewing, you can actually get a lot of things done.
We’ll talk more about that in a later blog. Today…it’s all about STYLE.
Style isn’t regaled to only novel writing. Every author has a voice. This is not the Point of View, as we discussed last week. A voice is an author’s particular way of writing. If you want to look at the extremes, you could compare the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald to those of Ernest Hemingway. Contemporaries and acquaintances (it’s argued if they were actually friends) they shared a propensity for two things, drinking and good writing. Beyond that, they had incredibly different voices. Hemingway was a man’s man, bull-fighting, womanizer. Fitzgerald was more introspective, a romantic, one might say. And their voices showed it and affected readers differently.
This quote hangs above my desk:
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Francis Scott Fitzgerald
Before you move on…read that again. Can’t you feel him speaking to you? Can’t you feel a hand on your shoulder or even a hand on your back (as one of my favorite inspirational women says: https://www.christinedercole.com/s/) encouraging you to take action, to not be dissuaded?
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
― Ernest Hemingway
First–did anyone else notice what POV he just used? Come on…it was only a week ago. The dreaded 2nd and he, as always, did an amazing job. Listen, in my humble opinion, Hemingway was kind of a giant misogynistic ass, but he could write a fine damn sentence, and his work cut through your skin like wind on a cold February day. But notice the colder, darker tone. The harshness.
The difference between those two is not in their brilliance. It’s in the feeling they evoke, and to me, that’s what your voice is. A writer cannot help but leave a trace of themself on the page. It’s probably why my heroines curse, or why setting to me feels like it always needs a bit of poetry–utilizing the senses to accentuate.
I’m a bit more Fitzgerald than I am Hemingway…But I’m all Sarah. And you are all you.
STYLE is what makes your story, even if it fits a trope or a formula, unique. Because no one is you. No one has your experiences, your vernacular (why you might say wa-r-sh instead of wash, or creek instead of cr-ic-k), your vocabulary, your turn of phrase, your tone.
I’ve tried to read ‘popular’ authors that I just couldn’t stand because they made a point to turn every sentence into a dictionary-induced game of look-up-the-word or strayed too far from the point. I’ve read simple shorts that didn’t use a word over 15 letters long that left me with chills and turning the page hungrily.
It’s not in the size, its in your style (remember I said that fellas).
So… I don’t have much to elaborate on here. I can’t train you to write in your own voice. You just have to write and see what comes of it. Are you poetic? Are you straightforward? Are you humorous? Do you tend to sink into the gray dark, or do you lift up towards the light? When you write are you telling the story to an audience, or to a friend? Every day may be different for each of us, but in total, your ‘voice’, your STYLE, is the way you tell a story.
So, look over your work in progress, short stories or poems you’ve written, and try to feel out what your voice sounds like. It’s hard to do this, so feel free to enlist the help of outsiders (friends, family, book groups, critique groups).
You will know your voice when you hear it.
Stay true to it, because if you ever try to write in someone else’s, your story–your work, will suffer.
We can’t all be Hemingway. Please, God…don’t let us all be Hemingway. We need Plaths and Fitzgeralds. We need Rowlings and Brookses. We need it all. The whole spectrum of style.
Thank you to the beautiful people at Grammarly for this awesome little image of Point of View.
Whilst (I love using that word) typing up the title today I realized, that all of these blogs on novel writing can also be used in other aspects of your writing. Short stories, flash fiction, non fiction, and even poetry all contain aspects of plot, character, and point of view. In a novel, however, consistency of your point of view is crucial for keeping your reader snuggly in your world. Shifts in POV can cause confusion or jar them out of the story.
So today, we’re going to briefly discuss the typical types of POV as well as which ones are most effective to use.
For the budding writer, I’ll lay down some foundation.
Point of View is basically who is telling the story.
In First-Person POV, then the action is happening to the person telling the story (the narrator is the main character). Here, a writer uses “I/We” mostly while only using “he/she/they” as outward observations. They can tell you what they see, feel, hear, know, etc, but they can’t tell you what anyone else sees, feels, hears, or knows. The best way to show those things are through action and dialogue AND by having faith in the reader to understand by your clues the general idea.
Second-Person is the red-headed step child of writing POV. I’m sorry. I said it. Second person uses “you” and “your” and they narrator speaks directly to the reader. “You were amazed. You’d never seen a chicken with five legs.” They make you part of the story. I suppose some of my blogs have been in 2nd person, non-fiction informative may utilize this POV. I’ve never used this in a short story or my fiction but occasionally it creeps into my poetry. In fiction, it’s very difficult to do well. (“Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerey, “The Sweetheart” by Angelina Mirabella, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern)
Third-person is an outside narrator telling the story from a distance (she/he/they). When it gets closer in (think into the characters’ heads) it’s called third-person omniscient. Third-person is popular with light fiction, serial romance, cozies, beach reads, sci-fi, fantasy etc. The tricky part of this POV is being able to stay focused on one character at a time. If the story dictates it (two or three main characters) I will switch POV in Third by chapter, possibly by section, but never by paragraph or within the same scene.
We discussed each typical type, but how do you know which one is best for you? Well, part of this comes down to your writing style. When you write, are you the character? Are you in their mind, in the arena, in the pilot’s seat? Or are you observing them, building the world around them and telling them what you see from above? Are you walking them through the story, a sort-of inward conscience to their journey? Which genre is your story? What’s the purpose of the story?
All of these factors can make writing in the right POV harrier than my old math teacher at the swimming pool (Hey! Take the sweater off before you get in–oh…wait…sorry!) Some genres are more lenient as to how much you can change or shift the point of view. Some genres really do best when one specific POV is used.
Take memoir for example. This type of storytelling should be first person, past-tense. Period. That’s your story, it happened to you. You are telling it.
Now, romance novels can dance on the edge of third-person, third-person omniscient, or first-person.
Most contemporary fiction these days is first-person (think Hunger Games) or if you’re feeling fancy, 2-person, first-person (look at Gone Girl–a book told in first by two different main characters–very clever)
I am wont to say that sci-fi and fantasy tend to be third person, due to the world building that has to occur. But it can be done marvelously in first as well (check out “The Martian” which tickles both first and third).
The important part about POV (especially when working with third) is that you stick to a strong, non-passive-voiced point of view that stays in its lane.
Check this out:
“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled and slammed her fist into the table upsetting the spoons. She’d had enough of his late nights at the track and the dwindling bank account.
Bob jumped back at the sound. His heart fell to his gut and he felt like crying. He couldn’t believe he’d lost their honeymoon money. He was only trying to double up on the winnings so they could have a bigger trip.
Jill paced the room in a fury. How could he? After she had been saving for months and months so they could go away…
Yowza. For one–this is a lot of information dumping out on your reader. You can’t describe your main character’s (Jill) thoughts and feelings about Bob and then in the next paragraph have Bob spring into an inner dialogue on his thoughts and feelings about her. It’s called head hopping and it confuses the readers. Only a few really talented authors can make this happen and not lose the reader (I’m looking at you Nora Roberts).
Don’t cause a ruckus. If the character you are writing for (be it third or first) isn’t a goddamn mind reader then don’t describe things they wouldn’t know.
If you want the reader to have the information, you show through body language and dialogue.
“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled. “I can’t believe you blew our savings at the tables!” She slammed her fist into the table and knocked over the cup of spoons.
Bob hung his head and swallowed. His voice trembled. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry doesn’t even begin–“ “I was only trying to–” Bob started.
“It doesn’t matter!” she yelled. “You don’t get another chance to make this better!”
Here, the reader has enough information to gather how Bob feels without dropping us into his head.
Ok. Whew! Speaking of info dumps, huh? Take a minute to absorb all of that. Think about your story, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to follow, and how you want to bring the reader along. If you’re writing short stories, experiment with all the types of POV. I’ve only written a few things in first and its very powerful, but for some reason, it’s very hard for me. My comfort is in Third-Omniscient, but as in all things in life, we have to push our comfort zones to be better. So…push your zones, get uncomfortable.
Listen. I write about writing. But–I’m also a student of the world. A mother. A teacher. A women’s rights activist. A human rights activist. A believer that we all deserve to be safe, loved, respected, and honored.
I’m not going to lie. This recent world has left me so–fucking hollow and angry, and sad, and despondent. We are sick. We are dying. We are killing each other and hating each other, and judging each other. I have kids, for christssake. Beautiful little beings that I brought into this quagmire of hatred and corruption. I kick myself every day for the world we’re giving them.
If you aren’t angry. You should be. If you aren’t melted into a pool of helpless and hopelessness; you should be. Every day I fight to get up and DO something.
Today I did this.
And if you don’t like it, stop following me. If it offends you, go sit down and examine why. Chances are it has to do with your own conscience.
Peel back the antiquity
The antebellum haze over your eyes
The veil of American greatness
And look at what we’ve done.
A body lies face down
Slaughtered in her own home
Life cut short,
Weightless in blood loss
And all the things
She will never do.
She will never again
Someone’s only heart.
Stop looking away…
Stop making excuses
Pale, white excuses.
Justifying your hatred
Through the fabric of a flag
Or a bible
Or whatever misguided armaments
You deny the worth
Of another human life with.
That the slave owner still owns.
That the shackles still bind
That the rules don’t apply
That the seething pool of hatred
That puts the small brained
And fearful men in power
Isn’t a sickening, disease,
Worsening this land
Butchering its people.
In the middle of the night
In their own homes.
Stop putting power into
Hands that hold no compassion
Stop putting power
into fear-filled hearts
Into anger-filled heads
Stop putting bullets
Into black skin
Peel back the white washed history
Look to the truth
The sun shining on
The dark, sweat slicked backs
that built this country
The lives that paid its dues,
Built its land
See how we still manage,
To. This. Day.
To put them up on blocks
Bullet holes in backs
Their fathers cut down
Crosses burned and
Churches riddled with metal
Six gaping holes
In the pajamas of an EMT.
How many more lives would she have saved?
That’s how many murders you deserved to answer for.
(image respectfully borrowed from Nick Cocozza’s amazing “selfies” series)
F*&k yeah, I just copied and pasted another great blog I wrote on Character (sorry for using F*&k in the first sentence, Mom). But if you haven’t followed me from the start you might have needed a reminder and I needed to work on some other projects. So… Ladies and Gents, enjoy Part Deux of Character.
From the dark, cavernous recesses of the author’s twisted mind springs forward all sorts of nasty and derelict creations.
Okay, that’s a touch overdramatic.
Frankly most writers will begin by creating a story from people they know or have read about (please see my last blog). Sometimes we do it without even realizing it. Characters and personality traits that we admire, or equally cringe at, stay with us in that sometimes-twisted-but-always-magical realm of our subconscious. Realism in characters is important because it adds to their believability and with that, their ability to connect with our readers.
Why is it so important to connect your character to your reader?
We are a society of channel flippers, of instant gratification lovin’, drive-thru eatin’, convenience hounds. We have the attention spans of goldfish. If you can’t connect your readers to your character through the common ground of sympathetic and universal traits they will put your book down. And often, when a book lands on the nightstand, it never gets picked up again.
If your reader can’t identify with your character in even some small way, they will cease to care about that character and will not follow them, no matter how interesting the story is. The human element is very important.
So along with grabbing them from the beginning with an interesting and challenging first scene, you must hold your reader to a character that they care about, either because they relate to them, or because they are fascinated by their darker side. Their traits and foibles make your readers want to know what’s going to happen to them next. And that keeps them reading.
In the ignorance of youth, I used to think that my character could be anything and do anything. They could be perfect because I was building their world and I could make them flawless. They could be smart, and athletic, and beautiful, always saying and doing the right thing, always in control of their situation and aware of their future. (In the business we call these characters “Mary-Sue”s).
Snooze-o-rama and eye-roll Central.
Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, wants to read about some pristine person who’s practically perfect in every way.
For one, we don’t need perfection rubbed in our face. We get enough from the glaring Hollywood machine. Secondly, a character that always says the right things, does the right things, and looks like a supermodel is not challenged and if they are, they do not fail. Characters that never fail are unrealistic, which means they cannot relate to the nerdy girl in her frumpy sweater and ripped jeans, curled up with your book (Yep, that’s me I just described). And what happens when that person doesn’t relate? The book is given a good chuck over the shoulder with a hearty ‘Good riddance’.
So make your characters dirty. Make them tarnished and worn. If they have to be beautiful, make them fundamentally broken somehow inside. If they are self-assured and intelligent, give them an outward physical challenge that hinders them. When a reader sees your character fail, they see the humanity within their own failures. More importantly, when they see them overcome the faults that stall their growth, they feel hopeful for their own path. They follow that character. They root for that character.
*In an amendmentto this section, I would like to say, due to the overwhelming lack of Mary-Sue characters these days, they’re actually a bit of a phenomenon. So, if you must create a Mary-Sue, own the hell out of it. Make them so staggeringly perfect that its almost comical…or otherwise interesting. Think of the person with extraordinary good luck, that can’t do wrong, even when they try.*
As a beginner writer it’s tempting to live out the life you wish you had in your pages, and it’s okay to write those ideas down. But keep those rarities for yourself. When it’s time to write an amazing story for the world, give the reader a character they can root for.
This advice is straightforward for developing the protagonist’s character traits. But it’s equally important to give this attention to your antagonist.
No ‘good guy’ is all good, and no ‘bad guy’ is all bad. Even the worst ‘bad guy’ has to have reasoning in his actions. They must have something that drives them, and it has to be something we can understand on our basic human level, even if we don’t agree with it.
Having even a slight sympathetic response to an antagonist builds tension between the characters and gives your reader the nail-bite reaction. The opposing forces both come from places that can seem justified and ‘right’ in their position, which makes the battle all the more important on both sides and the outcome so much more brutal or celebratory.
This week’s exercise is to take a hard look at your characters. Do they have some baseline, deep-rooted faults? Are these faults causing interesting and plot-driving stumbling blocks? Are they loveable, and a little bit annoying? Are they dangerous, but still broken?
If you find that they’re not engaging enough, throw in a life-changing event into their past and rewrite them based on their new fault. Divorce, fire, murder, car accident, illness, or the loss of loved one can be good ideas to play with. Take away one of their defining traits and replace it with its opposite. Nothing you play with is set in stone, it’s just a way to grow your character’s depth and help you to know them better.
If you’re looking for a good reference, one of my favorite books on the subject is Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D Writer’s Guide to Character Traits.
Good luck out there, kiddos. I’d love to hear if this helped you out and how!
Good morning, writers! And a happy morning to you (or afternoon, or evening, whenever you tumbled out of bed–or back into it and are catching up on your bloggers). This week, in exploration of the novel, we’ll be talking characters.
I’m telling you now, because contrary to some reports out there, I’m not a complete idiot. A while back I did a decently in-depth study of character and I’m using a lot of that for this post. After all–the quicker I get the blogging part done, the quicker I can get back to my own novel and the characters I’m currently developing.
So without further ado– recycled Character Development:
Since character development is one of my favorite aspects of writing and I thought I’d pay homage to it’s process in a two part post.
So first, let’s address where characters come from.
I’ve had characters come to me in dreams (day or night), sometimes they’re inspired by true stories from news that I trip across. Sometimes they spring from hazy memories of a childhood friend, or the curious behavior of the neighbor across the street who steals decorative rock from the common area and smuggles it away in her purse. Any one adept at studying human nature and observing their fellow human beings can get inspiration simply from watching what our nutty human brethren do (and don’t do) in the course of their day.
Often, though never in their entirety, I write from people I know. By this I mean people I know both casually and intimately are good places to start for characters.
Although real people can help jumpstart the process, they rarely become the character in the final draft, and here’s why.
For one, it would be creepy (and, depending on the story and topic, possibly slanderous) to write about an actual person from your life, unless it is a memoir of said person and they are asking you for your help. Ethically, a writer looking to publish or share their work with the world must adhere to certain rules of respect and common decency concerning using the likeness of other people. That being said, you can (and should) borrow personality traits, history, and physical attributes that enhance your character’s believability, without putting someone’s life down, verbatim, on your page.
Secondly, even when based on someone you may know, something magical will inevitably happen when you put a ‘real’ person on a page and shove them into a conflict (the driving force of your story). Under the demands of a proper story arc, the character you began with will be forced to shift and evolve into someone else. You don’t know how your character will behave in an apocalyptic dystopia and the situations and decisions that they are faced and make will be a magical combination of what the author dreams up spontaneously, the character’s history and what the author needs them to do to move the story forward.
For example, Joe Smith may start off looking like your high school biology teacher but if you write him exactly as he was, including is normal day to day, your audience will be too bored to stick with his story.
Now, if you put the body of an alien in the school science lab’s freezer next to the dissected frogs, Joe Smith, your old biology teacher will automatically become way more interesting. And as he does, he will move away from the real person you started with and morph into a different character. A man of his own, alien-hiding, design.
A writer can tweak, correct, enhance and play with personality types, turning one, real-world person into a completely different but still realistic character. But it’s important to keep the relatable aspects of the initial ‘muse’, including the physical attributes that you can describe in realistic detail, or the personality types that can be explored in depth from a place of personal interaction.
What can be left behind are names, exact and undeniable physical description (don’t be a creeper) and any ‘boring’ or typical parts that may be cliché or expected. The character will change to be their own person with the natural progression of their role and development within your story.
The other method of character development is to begin with a story and let your mind follow the natural path of who lives it. This is one part plot-driven creation and one part spontaneous combustion.
An atomic bomb goes off, a virulent disease hits the population, a train switches tracks, a car runs through an intersection, an alien shows up in a freezer.
Start with an event and ask yourself; who would it affect most? Who stands to lose or gain the most? Who is equipped to deal with the situation? More interestingly, who is least able to cope with it and how do they survive?
Characters will find their way into your mind. They may look and act like someone you know or they may have a mind of their own. As a writer you will find that as your plotline advances the character will become less and less your creation and more a product of their history combined with their destiny.
We all have these personalities in our heads that sit dormant on the shelves until something shakes them loose. Most writers, (yes, I’m saying it) are a little bit schizophrenic. We are geniuses of introspection and observation. Humans are interesting and a good writer will watch and learn from their interactions how to build characters that could be a best friend or a worst enemy in their reader’s own world. They talk to us as we write their paths, they argue when we move too far away from their true reactions. They trip us up by throwing random but necessary bits of history our way that we hadn’t considered for the bigger picture. It’s maddening and magical all at once.
Next time we’ll talk about developing intricate characters and some tips I’ve picked up along my journey to make them somebody your reader’s will root for, love, and hate. Until then, take a few minutes today to think about some characteristics that you love and loathe in human beings and think about why they draw your attention.
Make a list of character traits that are interesting in both beneficial and detrimental ways.
Also, feel free to write or comment about your favorite characters, and if you’ve ever found yourself ‘accidently’ writing about someone from real life. Next time we’ll have an exercise on character development and I look forward to your responses!
Good Thursday to you, Writers. I hope you have a brand-spankin’ new plot started in your head from Tuesday. Moving from that amazing raw material I’m going to tickle your inner plotting nerd and give you a ‘graph’ of sorts to help you with organize a killer storyline.
Last time we discussed ways to help create a basic plot for your novel idea, today we’re going to outline the beats, or arcs, of that story. If you remember from my handy-dandy, bulleted list on Novels, I list Arcs as being an important element. While this blog does cover some of the theory, I will do a more in depth look at crafting an arc that creates the perfect amount of tension.
Back to plot. Some of the best stories follow a pattern, or what I like to think of as a rollercoaster of ever-rising stakes.
Most plots can be split into three acts. The Set Up (beginning), The Conflict (middle), and The Resolution (ending). Each of these acts should have some defined crisis or event which is like a doorway your character passes through and must either change, fight, or overcome more trials until they find resolution. I found this nifty diagram from David Harris Kline’s “Structure Lesson #2: The Three Act Structure” ( http://www.writers-for-writers.com/2017/11/08/structure-lesson-2-three-act-structure/)
As you can see the beginning has to hook the reader into a specific event, starting point, or character problem. Here’s where you introduce your character and show us who they are, what they want, what they are facing. Throw in some foreshadowing and Bam! You just met a small-town farmer from Tatooine.
Act II comes with something that disrupts their normal day to day. (Holy shit, this droid has an important message from the Rebellion!) The character is forced to make a choice (wipe the droid’s memory or try to get the message to old Ben).
The middle, as most of us know, can be a bitch to write. This is where the dreaded doldrums hit. The quagmire. The swamp of eternal despair. I’m not going to get too deep into that swamp today except to say that this is where plotting can really help build a bridge across the muck and help your character get to that final, defining climax. This bridge is paved with different obstacles and trials that keep the action and the tension going through out. (Scruffy looking nerfherders and tough-ass princesses, oh my!)
Then, finally, as our hero/ine comes through that final climax (for better or worse) we witness their transformation or acceptance of who they are or what they need to do . The final act is where you tie up your loose ends and give the audience the resolution they’re seeking. Like giving a Wookie a medal.
Well, that’s pretty much all I wanted to cover on plot for this time around. Next week we’ll be talking about one of my absolute favorite aspects of writing: Characters.
Until next week, diagram your plot, think about what events, scenes or characters you can inject to get those bursts of conflict. Think about what your character wants and what obstacles stand in the way of that. How does overcoming them move them/change them for the next bump in the road?
Good luck out there, and may the Force be with you.
Can you believe I couldn’t think of a more creative title? Me neither. Some days are like that.
Today, is not my normal blogging day, but we’re getting into the meat and potatoes of writing a novel, and this kind of thing needs space. So, without further ado..
What is Plot and Why is it Important?
All right, I get it, it’s a dumb question, we’re all writers and we all KNOW that plot is the basic story of your novel. It is the idea. The “what happened”, and why, and “what’s going to happen next” of any decent story. I’m not trying to dumb it down for you. But the true test of a good plot lies in the simplicity of answering those questions.
Now, you can have books that are character driven (an event happening TO a person, or BECAUSE OF a person). And you can have books that are historical non-fiction, based on one specific moment in time or occurrence. The PLOT of your book expands more than just beyond an event (otherwise The Hunger Games would have been maybe 50 pages long). The plot is the premise or sequence of events. Some novels will follow a very specific order of events that are common to their genre, or as we like to call them tropes. Tropes comes from the Greek Tropos define as “turn, direction, way” and refers to common, recognizable elements or sequences of events.
Many genre specific tropes (I almost prefer ‘formulas’) are embraced by the audience and even expected. Examples include: “the hero’s journey”, “enemies to lovers”, “small towns”, “cold cases”, “missing persons”, “AI gone wrong”, “fairy tale retelling”. But if almost every novel follows a plot formula how is it #1, that readers don’t get bored and #2 that you tell an original story that hasn’t been done before.
It’s an interesting dilemma on the part of a writer. We know which formulas work in fiction and straying from them often makes a plot fall apart or leaves a reader angry or unsatisfied at the end.
But how do we follow commonalities in plot structure and still make it a fun, captivating, and surprising journey for our readers? The answer my friends, lies your ability as a writer to do five things: (Fuck Yeah! A bullet list!)
Begin with a unique event or crisis. This comes back to the “scan the headlines” exercise I’ve had you do before. A lot of weird shit goes down in the world. A lot of undercover, shady AF stuff too. Use it as a springboard, to your “what happens then/if” story building.
Tie the reader to your character (through love or hate) and make their reactions to events unique or contrary to the norm. (ie a cheerleader who fights vampires. A small town farm boy who becomes a powerful Jedi. A teenager who comes into supernatural powers without the maturity to handle them and doesn’t use them to download free porn–come on.) Character building will come later in this series but if you create unique ones, their actions will create new takes on formulas.
Use honed writing technique to build tension for climaxes. Yikes, that sounds dirty. Tension is one key to making a story more than just series of events. So much of this depends on your voice and writing style. But the big take away here is about risk. Making the risks personally huge for your character, and even the world at large, will keep the plot fresh and drive it forward.
Play with the number and intensity of climaxes (story arcs). I think I’ll start using story arcs (some prefer ‘beats’) because every time I type climaxes I can’t stop giggling. Ok. Story arcs are BIG deals in your plot. Think of these as door ways, crisis-points at the top of your arc, that your character has to move through in order to get closer to what it is they want/need. Once they hit that doorway, or crisis point, they can’t go back. A serious change has occurred either in the setting or with-in the character and they must move forward. Next blog will be all about these arcs so I won’t go into much more detail here.
Consider using unexpected but intelligent twists. The best movies and books I can think of that do this are: “The Sixth Sense”, “Fight Club”, “Gone Girl”, “Mind Hunters”. What better way to shake up an audience than by having them accept one reality for the entirety of the story, only to show them the true reality at the end.
All right, so there are some tips for building an effective plot that carries readers throughout the book. My advice to you this week, is to explore various tropes and patterns, especially those in your genre. Turn a piece of paper (landscape-style) and write out the typical pattern of your story, then overlay events and characters of your proposed idea. See how they match up, see if you have enough tension building scenes, just play around with it. I’m not much of a plotter myself, but even I will do a general outline to keep myself on track and make sure I’m building a solid plot.
Next time, more on story arc, how to climax well (*snork*), and end satisfied (*hahahahaha). Until Thursday, happy writing.
I hope that you had a productive week and are staying safe wherever you’re stationed right now. It seems in all parts of the world, different calamities are occurring. In my own state we went from 80 degrees to 30 in a matter of hours. And while I weep for my garden, my hope is that the snow and rain will put an end to the massive fire that is raging north of our town.
So whether you are being lashed by hurricanes, trampled by heat, or decimated by fire, I am sending all my hope for your safety and well-being. Believe it or not (and most of the world’s leading climatologists agree) this is probably tip of the melting iceberg in terms of where our world is headed.
What better time to start writing that dystopian/apocalyptic novel that you’ve been putting off?
While we still have power to do so, let’s write.
Now, some of you are short story aficionados and some are poetry pros but there’s something beautiful and obstinate about writing a novel. It’s the kind of thing that gets bandied about at coffee shops and by people in thick rimmed glasses over cups of burnt coffee, smugly proclaiming that they’re drafting their first, second, or third revision. It’s daunting just trying to write a first version for some of us. While we could probably spend a month-long class on the craft of writing a novel, I’ll try to pare it down to the essentials for those of you who are looking to get started.
Most novels come in between 60,000 and 120,000 words. Some exceptions can be made and I’ve seen as few as 40,000 and over 150,000. The large spread is due to the specifics of genre. A light romance novel only needs to distract us for an afternoon, so 50,000 is plenty. A science fiction tome, where entire worlds are built and new languages are developed will require three times that.
For the most part, I like to keep my novels between 80,000 and 100,000 (but even the Southtown Harbor Series pushed into the 120,000s–ghost sex takes some time to maneuver through). This is simply the cold hard number in the equation. The real magic of a novel is so much more than that.
You can scour the internet all day and dredge up at least fifty sites, each with a pretty little bullet-point list of the “essential” elements of a good novel. One might have 5. Another 3. One had 24. Still another 12.
Just like parenting your first child, when it comes to writing your first novel, you will get a deluge of advice both good and bad. I encourage you to read as much of it as you can and reject what doesn’t fit your style. Because at the end of the day, if you are forcing your voice and writing style into the confines of a bulleted list that doesn’t gel, you’re not going to get that book written.
Here are the consistent elements that all novels really should have and that we’ll be covering for the next three to five weeks, in no particular order of importance. (Yes…I get the hypocrisy of giving you a list…just…go with it.)
Plot (can’t write a novel without a purpose/story)
Characters (can’t engage a reader unless they have someone to follow)
Viewpoint (or even Point of View if you will–affects how the reader travels with you and how you are able to convey information)
Style (your particular voice as well as the overall tone of the book)
Arcs (some say beginning, middle, end…I say doorways. Potaytoe, Potahtoe)
Setting (not only does setting affect character and style but can also be a character itself)
Dialogue (I’m throwing this one in because, if done well, it will move the plot along and connect us to characters. If done poorly, it will stunt the flow and disengage the reader)
Well, it looks like I have seven there. I think that’s a happy medium point and a good basis to start. Beginning next week I will be posting both on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mini lessons in the art of writing a Novel. I may even include some excerpts of my own work as examples.
If you have some thing you’d like to ask, or a problem you’ve encountered in the process and want to shoot me an e-mail, I’d love to hear from you and try to help get you out of the pit, so to speak. It may also help another writer who is struggling to hear similar questions and concerns. So don’t be shy.
Until then, gird your loins for next Tuesdays riveting episode on Plot.
Hello kids. Listen, lately this blog has been heavy handed with the writerly stuff. Let’s face it, a lot is going on in the world and sometimes its nice to focus on something we can control, something we can improve, something we can do.
I began this blog with a rant that just sprung out of the general feeling of hopelessness, anger, frustration and worry. For my family, my community, my country. I began on a three paragraph spewing about inequality and why the government and richest among us love to stoke the fires of divisiveness. I began, this early morning, festering outwardly what I’ve been festering inwardly for the last three an a half years.
Because our country has turned to a festering shit pile that’s hard to ignore. But we all know it. We all see ourselves behaving like hateful, ignorant assholes, but…everyone’s doing it so it makes it ok? See? Witness how easy it is for me to fall back into the loop that keeps me up at night, gives me anxiety, and makes me plan to move off the grid and become a hermit.
But today is about reprieve. A break. A rest.
Something different is called for. And so, to take a side road from writing (while not diving into the sewage that our current state of affairs has become), I want to talk about song lyrics.
Specifically, those lyrics from songs that stick into the sides of our hearts. That spur inspiration in our brains. That connect us as human beings. Surely you’ve got a few rambling around in your neurons. I’m going to give you a few here, and links to the songs.
Your exercise this week is to listen to some of your favorites and something new. Think about the words and how they correspond with your own experiences.
Writing is not as powerful if, at some point, the reader (or listener) doesn’t sit back and say to themselves ‘man, I’ve been there’.
Your job, in essence is to find a way to connect to a complete stranger by letting their words affect you.
Here you go:
I heard this one earlier in the week and it had been years. As I’ve aged, it’s struck different and more meaningful emotions in me.
“Once upon a time there was an ocean But now it’s a mountain range Something unstoppable set into motion Nothing is different, but everything’s changed
It’s a dead end job, and you gets tired of sittin’ And it’s like a nicotine habit you’re always thinking about quittin’ I think about quittin’ every day of the week When I look out my window it’s brown and it’s bleak
Outta here How am I gonna get outta here? I’m thinking outta here When am I gonna get outta here? And when will I cash in my lottery ticket And bury my past with my burdens and strife? I want to shake every limb in the garden of Eden And make every love the love of my life
I figure that once upon a time I was an ocean But now I’m a mountain range Something unstoppable set into motion Nothing is different, but everything’s changed
Found a room in the heart of the city, down by the bridge Hot plate and TV and beer in the fridge But I’m easy, I’m open, that’s my gift I can flow with the traffic, I can drift with the drift Home again? Naw, never going home again Think about home again? I never think about homeBut then comes a letter from home The handwriting’s fragile and strange Something unstoppable set into motion Nothing is different, but everything’s changed
The light through the stained glass was cobalt and red And the frayed cuffs and collars were mended by haloes of golden thread The choir sang, “Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean” And all the old hymns and family names came fluttering down as leaves of emotion
As nothing is different, but everything’s changed”
This man is brilliant, in voice and lyric. There’s something dark and gritty in him that brings out the underbelly of love:
“Love ain’t nothing more than black magic You better want what you wish for It might happen I drank your poison Fell under your spell Love is hell and nothing more than black magic
Love is like a bag of drugs it blows out both your knees Innocence gets tangled when you hang it on a string Both our eyes were foggy glass, too high to ever see The devil’s sleight of hand, twisting fate with ancient ink”
This song…is on my alarm in the morning…Because what we have is what we are and where we’ve been has gotten us this far.
“Every tree has got a root And every girl forbidden fruit and got her demons And the path I chose to go, a different girl so long ago I had my reasons
And she’s in my head so loud, screaming “Shouldn’t you be proud of what you came from? Oh, you’ve been crippled and you’ve walked on You’ve been shut up and you talked, so let’s talk some more”
Where is the hand for me to reach? Where is the moral I’ll ever teach myself? In all the black, in all the grief, I am redeemed
And its ripping at my heart Because Im dodging all the darts and on a slow train And then Ill wear it til it tatters And it shatters on the floor in instant replay
Oh, were all rotten and were pure And were just looking for the cure that feels like spring snow And all we have is who we are and where we’ve been got us this far, so let me go”
This woman’s voice and writing is so empowering. I recommend listening to this one while you’re out walking, or running, or moving. It’s a heart-helper.
“The way you smile When you believe in it, in your future It’s different, it’s different
Now we moving forward, ever backwards Never forward, ever backwards, never And when the going gets rough and life gets tough Don’t forget to breathe
I love it here ‘Cause I don’t have to explain to them Why I’m valuable, that I’m magical And back home they tear Tear my soul apart Love my broken heart I don’t know where to start
The way you smile when you believe in it, in your future It’s different”
I could go on ALL DAY. But I’ll only give you two more.
This has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It feels like a whole journey through life and the one lesson at the end you wished you’d known sooner. And this video, I believe, was compiled by some amateur videographers. It’s brilliant. It feels like what my soul would do, if it were untethered from fear.
“Hello, my old heart How have you been? Are you still there inside my chest? I’ve been so worried, you’ve been so still Barely beating at all
Oh, oh, don’t leave me here alone Don’t tell me that we’ve grown For having loved a little while Oh, oh, I don’t wanna be alone I wanna find a home And I wanna share it with you
Hello, my old heart It’s been so long Since I’ve given you away And every day, I add another stone To the walls I built around you To keep you safe
Oh, oh, don’t leave me here alone Don’t tell me that we’ve grown For having loved a little while Oh, oh, I don’t wanna be alone I wanna find a home And I wanna share it with you
Hello, my old heart How have you been? How is it being locked away? Don’t you worry, in there, you’re safe And it’s true, you’ll never beat But you’ll never break
Nothing lasts forever Some things aren’t meant to be But you’ll never find the answers Until you set your old heart free Until you set your old heart free”
If you haven’t been listening to them so far it’s cool. But, PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS ONE. PLEASE WATCH THIS ONE. In today’s hurtful environment, we all need to be reminded that every man is a son to a daughter. Every woman is a daughter to a father. We should always treat each other as if we are gifts, in need of love and understanding. It should be forefront in every heart and mind.
“What I’ve learnt from the ocean Hard to dance and rejoice in the motion Let the sun have its moment The moon will come What I’ve learnt from a soldier Every man is a son to a daughter And we only remember When we see the blood
Don’t grow up on me Keep that backstroke in your Afro Don’t you grow up on me Slow up homie Don’t you grow up on me Keep it OG sipping slowly Don’t you grow up on me Slow up homie
Don’t you show off on me Don’t you grow up on me Show off on me
What I’ve learnt from a traveler There’s no road that can lead to nirvana There’s a world to discover But home is love
What I’ve learnt from a mirror Look too hard and you’ll find you a stranger Love is just a decision The choice is yours”
All right, writers. The choice is yours, how you do this day. Are you an ocean or a mountain range? All you’ve gone through has led you to where you are today. And while love is like a bag of drugs that blows out both your knees, you’ll never find the answers until you set your old heart free. I hope you move forwards, ever. Backwards, never. And know that love is just a decision; the choice is yours. I hope you choose love.