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Giving Thanks

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.

NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

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

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

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Validation

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?

Validation.

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?

Just write.

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.

Happy living.

Poetry, Humanity, Gravel and Gold.

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.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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,

quaking aspen.

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

and they’ll rush out with soapy hands

warm hugs

and how was the drive?

I hope that heaven’s streets

are more gravel than gold

And we’ll meet there together

on the porch, beside the hush of river,

telling tales of the journey in.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #8–Talk To Me Goose…or Dialogue

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.

“Yeah.”

“Destiny Harrison?”

“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.”

“Yeah.”

“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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #7– Setting

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

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).

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by stein egil liland on Pexels.com

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.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop Novelty #6: “The Kid’s Got Style”

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?

In contrast:

“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.

So get out there and write true to yours.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #5: Point of View

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.

Pick a POV per project and stick with it.

Until next week. Happy writing!

Conscience.

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.

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

Be.

Someone’s child.

Someone’s baby.

Someone’s daughter,

Someone’s only heart.

Stop looking away…

Stop justifying

The unjustifiable.

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.

Stop denying

That the slave owner still owns.

That the shackles still bind

Stop denying

That the rules don’t apply

Stop denying

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

See it.

The sun shining on

The dark, sweat slicked backs

that built this country

The lives that paid its dues,

Built its land

Its commerce

Its industry.

See how we still manage,

To. This. Day.

To put them up on blocks

Bloodied

On streets

Bullet holes in backs

Children watching

Their fathers cut down

Crosses burned and

Bodies dragged

Churches riddled with metal

And hate.

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.

Add in the life of her mother.

Her family.

Everyone who loved her.

Because you killed them too.

Not free.

I hope your conscious is never free.

I hope it shackles you.

I hope it whips tight, thick lashes

into your back

And puts you on the blocks

To weigh your worth.

I hope it steals your children

I hope it guns them down in the street

I hope it corners you, every night

I hope it kneels on your throat

I hope you suffocate in your shame.

Shame on you.

Shame on all of us.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop: Novelty #4- Character Part Deux

(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.

I shudder to think how many amazing stories were lost to the underside of the coffee table.

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 amendment to 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.

Something tells me this guy has rope, a damsel, and a train to catch

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!

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #3: Character

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.

They double-dog dared him.

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!

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #2: The Story Arc

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.

-I love tickling nerds

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).

Real, live image of me during quarantine.

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.

Wait a goddamn minute…where’s Chewie’s 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.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #1: Plot

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.

(She’s gonna want to talk to your manager)

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.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #31: Novelty

Happy Thursday, Writers.

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.

Remember, remember…when the world wasn’t collapsing into chaos and death?
Photo by Ashutosh Sonwani on Pexels.com

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.

THE NOVEL

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 a novel, it’s all cute and fun until it poops itself.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

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.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: A Musical Reprieve

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.

I hope you choose love.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #30: The Dirty Thirty

Okay. That title doesn’t have anything to do with short stories and how we write them (unless you’re on the right route to submit for Letters to Penthouse…does that still exist anymore?)

What do you mean you haven’t seen this movie!?I’m kind of surprised my mom let me watch it. I’m still mildly obsessed with angels…

I just wanted to mark the occasion of your thirtieth lesson in writing. And drum up interest for our last foray into the short story.

First–How did last week go? Were you able to come up with some ideas for future short stories? Did you write any? Did you revisit some of your favorites from the past? No? Come on…I can’t do it all for you!

If you have managed to draft up a couple of ideas and maybe even pursue them, and you’d like to have a second set of eyes, I’d love to take a look. As you may have seen, I updated my submissions guidelines on Tuesday for anyone looking to start building their platform as well as finding a place for their work (without the work of having to start and maintain a blog…gosh, I’m doing EVERY THING for you!)

So, last bit of short story advice is this. Once you have your strong (loved or hated character) and you’ve thrown them into a bus crash on their way up to hike Machu Pichu, what do you do with it?

Well, as in Poetry and Flash Fiction, if you you believe in this work and you want to see if it’s worth the reading for the general public; you submit it for consideration.

After a very thorough round of editing (or six), conformance (sure that’s a word?) to industry standard word counts, and all of your I’s dotted, you embark on the great internet search to find the perfect journals/mags/online forums to submit to. You find out the editor’s name, and use it to craft a beautiful query letter, follow each publication’s guidelines to the letter, and submit your work (while recording who and where and when you sent it to because you’re not a disorganized slob like me). Then you sit back and wait for the magic to happen.

Except you should never just sit back and wait as a writer.

Once that beautiful piece of literature, sure to torture high-school student’s someday with its dissection, is out in the hands of hard-eyed editors, you go back to that booklet of ideas and begin again.

The secret to a good writer, is that they don’t throw all of their hope into one basket and hurl it into the universe. They churn out the baskets, in a timely manner and with enough care that they aren’t just filled with shit. And they keep plugging away at it. And the first stories might actually be baskets of shit. But it gets better, they get better, you get better, until soon, you know what works and what doesn’t by the frequency of rejection notices.

I think I just summed up my writing existence in one paragraph. You’re welcome.

Normally, I would leave you with a list of publications that are accepting short stories. But…I think it might be time for me to kick you out of the proverbial nest on this one.

Go online–resist the urge to search cute kitten videos or Henry Cavill shirtless…holding kittens–and search for places now accepting submissions for short stories. If you can be specific in your search to the content of your story. Narrowing your search engine will save you time and weed out the journals that aren’t interesting in what you’ve written.

My general rule of thumb is collecting a list of 15 to 20 potential publications (yes, there are that many) and submitting my story(s) to 3 or 4 of them a week.

*Disclaimer–some publications will NOT ACCEPT simultaneous submissions so either submit different pieces or wait to submit until your current work is rejected (I’m not saying it will be…I’m just–*sigh*–saying that the odds are such).

Boom.

Mic Drop

That’s it. Go write something. Go submit something. Go watch “Barbarella” then write something. Come see me next week and yell at me for breaking your brain with Jane Fonda breaking ‘The Machine’. Next week’s topic is a surprise. (I say that because I don’t even know what I’m writing about next week)

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #29: The Short Story

Hello! Welcome back to The Beautiful Stuff and todays’ introduction to the well-known and prolific format we all suffered through in high school English.

Ladies and Gents: The Short Story

Don’t get me wrong, I say ‘suffered’ now because everything when you’re a teenager that entails any sort of responsibility not of your choosing is, to some degree, “suffering”. I mean, I could write for hours, holed up in my room, gladly passing the day. But ask me to read a short tome by O. Henry and I’d give you an eye roll and heavy sigh that would have rivaled the most put-upon martyr. Looking back, I actually really liked those stories. I remember dissecting them, studying the elements, and learning what made them so powerful.

Thank you, Joyce for “The Most Dangerous Game” and mining deep into the dark hearts of men. Hats off to the master of short story, E.A. Poe and his “Tell-Tale Heart” among at least a dozen others that gave me a healthy love of the spine-shiver. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was my first taste of apocalyptic fiction. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences and I urge you to go back over those old favorites and see what you notice at a different age/stage of life.

The Short Story is actually lumped in with Flash Fiction and Micro fiction and is defined by a word count of 5,000 to 10,000. Some even dip down to the 1,000 range, occasionally they’ll touch 15,000. But in general, anything above that (30,000-60,000) is considered a novella. I’m giving it its own blog because the short story is a beautiful place to start if you are just beginning your path in writing. It’s not overwhelming but it will allow you to practice a lot of the bigger elements of story-telling. It requires a certain amount of frugality with words and demands a tight story arc which are good practices to hone before embarking on a novel-length piece.

What’s the difference from flash fiction? Well, in flash fiction you are looking at a snap shot of a moment; a defining moment, a quirky flash in the pan. In a short story you have more wiggle room for character development and the ability to tell a complete story.

Why’s that important you ask? Wow, you always come up with so many good questions!

Character development is important in short stories, because often it is the character that drives these stories. That doesn’t mean you get to expunge for 3,000 words on the finer details of Joe Doe’s eleventh grade algebra class. It means you have the opportunity to create a connection to the reader by showing who Joe is using his reactions to the situations presented.

How do you do this most effectively?

Photo by moein moradi on Pexels.com

Well, as in novels, you have to know your character. I once wrote a short story about a woman who’s husband left her on her 50th birthday for a younger woman. I got to know Jane Pearce so well, that I often think there’s a little bit of herself still residing in me. The part that snaps out of her doting-housewife haze and burns the mother-fu$^ing house to the ground, collects the insurance money, and retires to Italy under a new name. The point is, if you don’t know what drives your character then you risk wasting time and words on a vignette that should be tight.

What else do we need to know?

Death follows a Terrier on a Mission.
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

Well, you need an extraordinary event. A divorce out of the blue. A airship landing in the parking lot of the 7-11. A dog running down the street with a human leg in its mouth. A car crash, a panic attack, an island event where humans are hunted, a lottery to see who’ll be stoned to death. A body buried beneath the floorboards…something. Something that forces our beloved (or be-hated? is that a word? why isn’t it?) character into some tough decisions that make them CHANGE AND GROW. Yes. This can be done in the short span of 7,000 words.

You may, if you’re so plottingly inclined (in my head that sounded very judgmental, I apologize to all of my plotters out there), outline your short story to arrange it with the proper story beats, valleys and arcs necessary. Or, if you’re a slob like me, you can just start with the event and your character and see what madness ensues. Just be conscious this is a finite clip, not the 6-hour extended director’s cut.

I could, literally, go on for thousands of more words about the art of the short story, but I know you have some kitten videos to watch and probably a pants-less Zoom call to get on, so… I’m going to end this first blog (there will be others) with a good starting point for my beautiful writers out there.

The hardest part of the short story, for myself and other writer’s I’ve talked to, is finding a smashing good idea to write about. For this week, I’d like you to try one or both of these exercises and come up with, at minimum, 10 potential short story ideas. If you have the time, pick one or two and try your hand at a short story.

For the first exercise, I would like you to pick up a copy of your local newspaper (or scroll through it online) and seek out interesting or strange headlines that deserve a bigger story. The body pulled out of the river with no fingers. The discovery of pesticide residue in kindergarten playgrounds. Whatever catches your eye. Find a notebook, write down one or two lines on each and keep going. Don’t stop to write the story just yet. Let your beautiful brain simmer.

Secondly, I would like you to take a prolific historical/fictional or not character and ask “what if”. What if Henry Melville had been a modern day fisherman. What if Lizzy Borden had been a nursing home attendant? What if Buddy Holly had survived the plane crash? What if Donald Trump was really an alien? (ok, that one’s not so far of a reach)

Get freaky with it, twist history a little and see what interesting plot ensues. Thanks for playing today. Share your results and ideas, if you like and we’ll be back next week with more on the Short Story!

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #28:

Happy Tuesday Beautiful Writers. I hope that your weekend was productive or relaxing (depending on what you needed most). It’s been a surreal existence as the mountains west are experiencing a massive wildfire. Kids and dogs and parents all stuck inside while a throat-burning haze has settled over the neighborhoods and streets. Makes for a feeling of being pressed down even further into the desperation of our times.

I hope, where ever you are reading this from, that you are safe and healthy, and that you are taking the precautions you need to in order to stay well.

I feel like there are some soap boxes I want to stand on right now…I’ve already deleted a few paragraphs on matters related to the continued destruction of our world, to the importance of the people we put in charge of our governments when it comes to the health of the environment, to the responsibility we hold over the continuation of all life on earth. But I’m going to take a deep breath, back away from that for now, and offer you up what I promised. Flash Fiction examples and where to send your work.

The first comes from Bill Wickstrom (a helluva fine man, expert bicycle mechanic, fisherman, and 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor, from the beautiful wilds of Wyoming) Enjoy!

Untitled

The cat curled up in the sun, his stomach full and warm. I told him I would, he thought.

Next Ms Janis Perez from New Mexico (a nearly-retired fifth-grade teacher *standing ovation* who’s getting a jump start on her ‘new’ career as a writer *standing ovation #2 because teachers deserve EVERY ounce of support we can give them) we have:

Three Tires

            Lisa sat in passenger’s seat and wondered; what happened to the car who’s tire exploded with such force that all remained were the shreds of it being bandied about by the never-ending flow of traffic on I-25?

At some point, in some person’s day, their car’s stability broke away and they were faced with the instantaneous situation of being hobbled at breakneck speeds. Would the lights come? Would the sirens bawl and angry drivers crane their necks to see what had thrown off their commute?

What happened to the person in the three-legged car? Did they crash? Did they lose their jobs for being late? Did they die?

What did it sound like when your cushion of safety suddenly turned to the sound of aching metal on asphalt?

            What did it feel like to know were going to die? Even for a split second?

            “Nearly there! Boy this traffic!” Her father startled her. “Are you excited?”

            Lisa mumbled, “Sure.”

            “Come on, L Bean! This is the first week of college! Out on your own!”

He was painting on the false sense of excitement thick. She didn’t understand why he felt the need to pretend; why he was lying that he was excited she was moving out. Not when it had just been them for so long.

            Ever since the tire had blown out on their life. Ever since mom left shards of herself along the bathroom wall and tub. Pieces of her safety cushion spattered across the sink. Lucky number 13-birthday present. The quiet instability of a tire that couldn’t survive the pressure of lane-shifting at breakneck speeds.

            She wondered what would become of her father when they she was gone. When the emptiness of the house would be complete. How sturdy were his tires? Would he end up a scatter of broken pieces in the HOV lane?

What would happen to her?

Lisa looked out the window at the Albuquerque skyline, cluttered with the fog of traffic. The particulate matter of a city so congested that the wind couldn’t keep up with its exhaling. A large Lexus swerved in front of them and her dad hit the brakes reactively.

            Her heart stopped, the burn of rubber squealing beneath her, the painful nerve sense that flooded her body with adrenaline.

            “I wanna go home!” she shrieked.

            “What?” Her dad’s breath caught and he slowed down, avoiding the collision.

            “I want to go home. I don’t want to change lanes. I don’t want to go. I’ve only got three tires.”

            “What?” Her father swung his head to look at her between checking his mirrors. “Honey—“

            “I don’t want to be a tire in the road.”

            “Lisa, what are you talking about?”

            “Take me home,” she said.

            “You have to go.” The first honest words in months. “You can’t get to anywhere good, if you don’t take the road. You have to start making your won.”

            “Dad.”

            “I’ll get you there, safe and sound.” He promised.

And here are a couple of my own:

Hoarder

Grandma’s ghost hid the silver, again.

We-evil

            The desolation was complete. Nothing stood in the field but lone stalks of brown, looking like they’d once been corn, leaning at odd angles from random pockets where the potential of seeds once bedded. Dried holes in the ground. Dried memories of a life, no longer sustainable.

            Chance Patterson tipped his cap up against the sun and squinted, crows-feet to the sky.

            He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen the color green.

            He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen another person driving down the dirt road, or the farther off highway. The distant train tracks, long since abandoned. Not one soul.

Not since the cloud swept through. Not since the sky turned that awful shade of black and turned out the sun. Not since the sickness hit his herd and the cloud silenced his corn before fruit could bear. He sighed to the rays of a sun much hotter than all his memories of summer combined.

A smarter man might have moved on. Stocked up on gas, food, supplies, and what clean water he could find and left the land. Looked for what remained. Looked for someone else who’d survived. Chance tucked his cap back down at the sight of distant crosses on the hill.

Momma and Dad buried in the hard-parched earth. Sister Rose and his favorite dog Beau.

Who knew what kinds were left? The helpless kind? Or the killing kind. The hungry and wild kind, like the sickness that had took his brother’s brain and left bullet holes in the lot of them while Chance had been out walking the lines, looking for hope.

Coming home to the hopeless.

Why didn’t he just leave?

Call it the comfort of familiarity; call it the only place he’d ever known, his whole world the sixty acres of useless burnt ground, littered with the corpses of his family and the death of three generations of dreams. Chance kicked the dust, stirring the debris of corn and wheat up into the air and he recalled a song that one fella used to sing. Kind of the hippie type; kind of a rocker.

Time to move on, he’d said. Time to get going.

“What lies ahead,” Chance said and stared at the road, empty and sullen. Not even the casual silhouette of a raven on a fence post or finch on a wire. Was it worth the trip out? What if there was a woman out there? A woman, like him, just trying to survive. Nothing left to her name but the shitty straw of having survived.

What if…his eyes fell to the barren fields. The sun hit something, flashing a star into his eyes. He wandered over, bent down, and picked up the broken mirror of his old Tonka truck.  A boy playing in the dirt. Whole future ahead of him.

Maybe tomorrow he’d chance it.

Thank you to everyone who sent me something for consideration as well as to those who shared them without wanting to share it with the world. I’m honored you chose to share it with me. All stunning stuff, so thanks again!

Now, here’s your promised list. All of these journals and mags are phenomenal but I URGE you to READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES before submitting. Some of them are very niche. Some of them have strict word count guidelines. Some are darker, some are lighter. Some require you to study a picture and write 100 words on what could be happening. All good things. Good luck and let me know if you get any response back from your submissions!

3 AM Magazine

Flash Fiction Online 

Word Riot 

Everyday Fiction 

Brevity 

Pank 

100 Word Story 

Smokelong Quarterly 

Hobart 

Drunken Boat 

Flash Fiction Magazine 

The Collagist 

Lunch Ticket 

NANO Fiction 

Fiction Southeast 

Southeast Review

Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize.

Literary Orphans –

The Rookery

Monkeybicycle 

Wigleaf –

Vestal Review –

 DecomP 

 Juked 

 Cheap Pop 

 Nanoism 

 New Flash Fiction Review 

 Lamplight,

FRiGG Magazine,

Superstition Review 

 Hoot

Willow Springs 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #27: A Need-To-Know Basis

Today’s blog will be short in rolling with the theme of Flash Fiction and its most basic principles.

Last week we talked about Flash Fiction (1 to 300 word stories) as a ‘snap shot’, not photo album. You could also say it’s a clip of a film instead of the whole three hour director’s cut. Because of this brevity, the story must be a significant part.

How do we, as writers, utilize the details of a moment to make an impact in a short amount of time? Well, my friends, it has to do with that famous and hair-pulling piece of advice:

Show don’t tell.

In a novel you have time to back-story a bit. You have chapters to build a character’s story, and flesh them out. You have pages to describe the fall leaves flanking their drive one day, even when the climax doesn’t happen until late December.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But in flash fiction you are limited in words, so every one of them must count. You don’t have the luxury of three paragraphs to tell a reader how the character made a cake just like her Grandmother and how it showed that she was tied to the past, and loyal to her family. You have one sentence to show us.

The audience is on a Need-To-Know basis. If a detail is pretty but insignificant for the purpose of story, it must be cut. The apron she uses may bring back random and various memories, but unless that memory is of her grandmother using it to dry her hands after slaughtering chickens for a voodoo ritual which cursed her love-life forever, I don’t want to hear it.

The loudest is always the first to go
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

In your Flash Fiction be sure to distill it down to the quintessential details, in curious and provoking ways which bring out the color of this photo and burn it into the retinas of your reader. That doesn’t mean it has to be shocking (burned out cars of ex-husbands, Iowan farm wives practicing voodoo rituals).

It just needs to be curious, gripping and brief. I don’t need to know the color of her hat, unless it’s significant to the story.

Now, personally when I think of what the audience ‘needs to know’, I prefer a little twist amidst those few lines. I prefer a flash piece to make me sit back with a; “Wait—what?”

It doesn’t have to happen. Sometimes the best flash work is simply a small slice of life that we all feel deeply, whether that be sitting at a funeral or sitting in dead-locked traffic (which is like sitting at your own funeral sometimes).

Again, practice your flash fiction this week and send me them if you wish. Try experimenting with something a little strange or unexpected thrown in. Let your brain just flow with a the strange and wonderful, try something that seems a touch jarring.

Next week, I’ll feature a couple of examples on Tuesday along with some journals currently accepting submissions for flash fiction. Then, we’ll move on to a new topic of discussion next Thursday.

Until then, beautiful writers, keep happily writing.  

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #26: Flashing for Fun and Profit

Yep. I said that. But in my defense…I don’t have a defense. I’m childish and immature. Please don’t go around “flashing people”. It’s not fun for anyone involved and you don’t make a good profit (unless you’re possessed of certain physical attributes—and even then, nothing in life is guaranteed.)

*for the record…that’s the first time I’ve spelled ‘guaranteed’ correctly on the first try. I just needed  to let every one know, so you’ll understand the kind of writer I am.*

When I say “Flashing” I’m talking about our next topic of discussion which is, of course, Flash Fiction.

If you like the brevity of poetry and quick, hard words that nail emotion to the theoretical wall with brute force, you’ll probably enjoy practicing flash fiction.

Let’s get started with a little introduction.

Ahem, Flash Fiction, these are my beautiful writers *gestures wildly out into the far reaches of the internet* They’re kind, amazing, and talented.

Writers this is Flash Fiction.

Flash fiction sprung up in the 1990s and has become a formidable form of storytelling that appeals to newer generations with ever-shortening attention spans and busy lives. Flash Fiction condenses a tapestry of story into a few short sentences/words/paragraphs. It also serves as a method to condense big ideas into concise writing, especially in terms of reporting (flash non-fiction?) and conveying information.

Ugh, that was dry. Talk about an awkward introduction.

Here are the basics. Flash Fiction is a form of short story that relies on brevity. Specifically, a word count between 1 and 300. If you’re wondering how you can tell a story in under 300 words, or even in under ten, allow me to give you one of the most famous examples:

“For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

This very simple sentence/story has two commas, one period and a myriad of images that can affect the reader.

Flash Fiction is further divided into micro-fiction, sudden fiction (Wham! Suddenly there was Fiction! Out of nowhere and sudden!), postcard fiction, short story, and the short short story. Believe it or not, there are even sub-categories called drabble which refers to stories that come in at 100 words and dribble that come in at 50 words.

Why Flash Fiction, Sarah?

Well, I’m glad you asked. And…if you didn’t know, that’s what the S in S.E. stands for. The E stands for Enigmatic. Or maybe Exciting. Earnest. Edward. Eggo-(not to be confused with Ego). Who knows? Only my mom and she’d never tell because she’s as loyal as the day is long.

Back on point:

The advantages of Flash Fiction are as follows:

Several websites, literary journals, anthology collections, and magazines are interested in these bite sizes of life.

They are relatively quick to write from an artist’s perspective, which makes them more versatile and easier to explore different genres with.

I personally find flash fiction refreshing to write. For one, when you’re embroiled in a 120,000-word novel, bogged down in outlines and character sheets, plagued with plot holes and flat characters, it feels pretty damn good to step out with a 250-word taster of a completely unrelated character’s flash-in-the-pan dilemma.

Don’t misread. Flash Fiction may have fewer words, but it doesn’t mean that it’s ‘easy’. (She’s fast but she ain’t cheap). Writing more with less is difficult, especially if you’re accustomed to novel length work.

So, to start this little experiment, I’m going to make your first time (or maybe I’m not your first…it’s completely okay, I’m not judging what relationships you had before me) nice and gentle.

Take a current work in progress, a novel you’ve published, a poem you’ve written, and write a flash piece based on the characters or subject in a strange and new situation. Or, maybe six months after the novel ended. Or six months before. Show them in the parking lot with a new baby, or thrown into jail at sixteen, or sunk unexpectedly into a worldwide pandemic (too soon?)

Then…and this is the trick; don’t go on and on.

Think snap shot, not photo album.

One picture will tell us a lot about a person, without needing to see the whole photo album. (have you ever had to sit through someone else’s photo album? No, Sarah, because we’re not three-hundred years old, we have Instagram like normal people…what century are you from?)

Flash fiction is a novel if a novel were poetry. Condensed, potent, memorable.

For sale, baby shoes, never used.

Here’s a little flash piece (a drabble to boot) I submitted that won honorable mention, if you’re looking for an example.

She hadn’t meant to set it on fire, exactly. But now that the heat burgeoned from its windows, charring the leather seats and crackling up through the retrofitted steering wheel, she was glad for the warmth.

It was a shame he’d never get to see the way the flames jumped and swayed in the clear night turning cloudy. It was a shame he’d left it unlocked, parked outside the strip club. A shame he’d said he was at a meeting. What. A. Beautiful. Shame.

She pirouetted against the star-filled sky, and danced along the edges of erupting metal and smoke.

Try it out, have fun, and let me know how it goes. Share or don’t. If you do share and you’d like it featured just make sure you follow my rules against excessive violence/hate speech/rampant eroticism (a little is awesome—too much is…too much) before submitting. I look forward to hearing how it goes!

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #25: Submitting Your Poetry

Good morning poets, writers, daydreamers and those who’ve accidentally stumbled onto my blog. Welcome. Grab a seat and a cup of coffee.

I’m starting off today’s post with some poetry submissions that came in over the last two weeks. I want to commend all the poets who send me their work. On a site like mine, where no profit is made, the art I share and display is for the soul and seeks to create a connection between us all. It means a great deal to me, especially in these days of separateness, to have someone answer back from the darkness with pieces of their lives that have moved them.

The second portion of this blog will have a run down of helpful tips (f*&k yeah! another bullet list!) on submitting your poetry for publication or competitions as well as a list of respected journals, websites, and independent magazines that are currently accepting submissions.

Please enjoy the poetry first. Roll it over in your brain and let it affect you.

From a small foam couch by a wide still

morning spreads hummingbird wings

and hovers above sweet shared generosity of

green breath, fragrant openings berries rounding

toward giftable ripe.

In my hand a letter of

urgent pleas, a photo of a severed head, defaced, a supine body.

i hear the cries of the killers’ children

starved of homeland, thirsty for water

not weighted by toxic sludge, in the

mourning touches and silent vigil—those who

gather to hold the immensity of loss and betrayal

together, whose hearts beat slow and whose long

trunks touch, mourner to mourner, connecting.

In my head echoes a question the letter refuses

to ask. Who buys this ivory?

Earnest groups patrol for poachers and

arrest sellers and confiscate poached evils, but

those with money enough to buy have

clout enough to hide or we allow them

to remain hidden behind lavish excesses

of endless kinds, hiding the sickness they carry

behind false fronts of our own contrived desires—

convinced that their perceived ease is our only goal.

In the pain of this poem is not where

i want to be this morning. In the dusty

Mara waiting for rain, waiting for humanity

to remember where we came from, where

we can again live whole and connected

among kin of all kinds who know us

as worthy of being mourned, i feel

the touch of sensitive trunk on my streaked cheek.

In my breath can i carry this song

of our truth—our birthright wealth? In my

heart can a scent of love spend the only

currency that matters? With my strong legs

i can embrace the work, celebrate the work, of

releasing our aspiration to laziness, so that

in my cupped hands, i can gather ripe fruits

to carry to all who hunger.

sid sibo

What I Didn’t Say

What I didn’t say

was that I was not sorry,

That you deserved

every faltering and bold moment

I loved you

What I didn’t say

was the space between notes

and the harbinger of changes

that I hadn’t heralded yet

All the words I did not speak

Still bitter on my tongue

And in their place

A thousand sorrys

I did not mean

I am not sorry

for my heart tremors

erotic night dreams

and the wicked way my hands scraped skin

I am not sorry

For falling, impetuous and blind

into the volcanic mess of you

The stifling and choking cloud

Heat of resistance

burning around

a cold,

locked heart

I am not sorry for sacrificing

my heart cells
to the lost cause of you and yours

You can have them,

the cardiac muscle and hardest working fibers

What I didn’t say

is that

you can take them all

You need them more than I do.

Elliana Byrne

Non attachment

I’ve been preaching to my mind

In forced moments of stillness,

When images of you surface

Non attachment.

Nothing really exists.

Least of all you

Least of all me.

Nothing is permanent.

Ever changing

Ever moving

To hold on is to suffer.

i am not attached.

i am not in need.

You are nothing.

And everything.

As everything is nothing and

Nothing is in the everything.

So even though you may

have seemed my everything

You are, as all, just nothing.

Just Neo’s spoon.

And I know now

There is no spoon.

So it can bend and move,

Or cease to exist.

There is no you.

No me.

No this,

No words you gave

Or thoughts you implanted.

There’s nothing but the breath

And the heat within me

Forging in time,

mine of universal light

Perfect harmony

And maybe this is the way I let you go.

Because you are the

Regret of my past

The ill-placed hope of my future

And all I really have…

Is the empty now.

Thanks for reading through all of those beautiful journeys into humanity. Now, I present to you a short and sweet bulleted list of tips for submitting your work:

  • Do your research: There’s nothing worse than sending your erotic, atheist, non-trad poem to a Christian Journal looking for pieces to be read aloud at their yearly conference. Know the journal/mag/contest you are submitting to. Try to write or match up a poem that fits what they’re looking for or at least the general “flavor” of their publication.
  • Be respectful and follow the guidelines: Every submission has guidelines. Read them. Follow them. If it seems like jumping through hoops is a waste of your time, thinking of sending out 35 submissions that don’t even qualify. That’s a waste. Most guidelines can be found on the website beneath or within the “Submissions” page.
  • Make sure your work is complimentary and tight: If you send out a group (3-5) poems it will help to have the poems compliment one another in some way, so the tone is not too disruptive but it also shows the depth of your writing skill. Also. EDIT. I know poetry is a bit free form and we can play with spellings and words to make things interesting, but don’t play it that way if you really just didn’t feel like spell checking.
  • Keep a Log of your submissions: If you use Submittable (and many contests, journals and mags do), it will track who you’ve sent work to, when, and how much the fee was if applicable. This not only helps you keep on budget but it allows to see where your work is and query or move on if no responses are given with the appropriate time frame. If you don’t want to go that route, you can make a spreadsheet in Excel, or keep a notebook with the date submitted, the publisher/journal, the poem(s) sent, the expected response time, entry fee, and anything else that you feel like creating a column for.
  • Don’t be afraid or discouraged by rejection: I’ve known poets who submit over 700 times a year and maybe get only five to ten poems published. I’m not nearly that ambitious but it helps to know that its just part of the game, and is not necessarily a reflection of your work so much as it is a matter of odds.
  • Know your ownership rights: Some forums will require that they have the sole publishing rights for a certain amount of time, meaning you can’t put it on your website or shop it around, even to local or smaller works. Be sure that you are okay with their terms of publication.
  • Start Small: Ya’ll I’m not even joking. One of the biggest secrets to publishing is to not throw your heart into the cauldron of huge publishing factories. Not only will your work get lost in the endless entries from around the globe, but it may not get into readers’ hands in the same way you wrote it. Do yourself a favor and research local magazines, niche magazines (think Erotic Atheist Digest?), local writing groups, and small literary presses. While they can be more discerning in some respects, they also carry the torch of being outliers that appreciate the art in a more grassroots way.

Well…holy smokes this might be one of my longest posts but, I did also promise you some good starting points for sending out your work. So, big breath in, you’re in the home stretch.

  • Thrush Journal
  • 8poems
  • 32poems
  • Rattle
  • FreezeRay
  • Ghost City Review
  • Barren Magazine
  • Little Death Lit
  • Palette Poetry
  • Wildness Journal
  • Androit Journal
  • Frontier Poetry
  • Winter Tangerine

Don’t forget to search local college/university literary journals, local publishing companies or poetry groups, and independent journals. Don’t be afraid to, every once in a while, send your stuff to bigger places too. The Harvard Review and Poetry Magazine as well as The New Yorker usually also accept submissions.

Until next week! Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #24: The Basics of Poetry

Hello writers,

First, apologies for missing last week. I started my Thursday morning at 2 am, driving to the trailhead of my first 14er. It was a beautiful cool day up on the mountain and I was pretty tired upon returning home.

In addition to that, and on the same day, we welcomed a new family member into our home.

So I’ve literally been climbing mountains and raising babies for the last few days and am now safely locked in my office for an hour of dedicated writing time.

Without wasting any time, let’s get into the basics of poetry.

Some of us are born with the inclination towards alliteration, symbolism, personification and all the intrinsic elements of powerful poetry. For the rest of us, becoming a better poet (progress not perfection) can be accomplished by learning the dynamics of poetry form and function.

Now, I’ve heard a lot of degrading comments on poetry that rhymes. First of all, Poetry is Poetry. It doesn’t have to fit into some MFA or Beatnik/Hipster trend to be worthwhile.

Witness:

“She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heavy to gaudy day denies”

Lord Byron

Or one of my other favorites:

“When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress-tree;

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember

And if thou wilt, forget.”

Christina G. Rossetti

Or Even:

“There’s too many kids in this tub

There’s too many bodies to scrub

I scrubbed a behind

And it sure wasn’t mine.

There’s too many kids in this tub.”

Shel Silverstein

Many a talented writer use rhyming and alliteration to build a beautiful rhythm that lends well to spoken recitation, which is one the most important foundation of Poetry. We’ll get into that a little later.

Do you need to rhyme your lines for it to be “poetic” or presentable? Of course not, as I mentioned last week, Poetry’s main function is to tell a story in the thickest, boiled down way. I do think it’s important to play with the concept of rhyming poetry, even if it’s only as a practice. It will not only help you to build your vocabulary, but it teaches you the essential dynamics of beat, and syllabic flow.

When considering how to help other writer’s have a good starting point for their experimentation into poetry I thought of the things that have helped me to grow and thrive in my poetry.

And I even put it into a bullet list because…bitches love bulleted lists.

  • Read a lot of poetry : The same as in any writing, if you want to know what works, read a variety of poetry. From the classics to the more modern and experimental forms. You can subscribe to the Poetry Foundations daily poem ( poem a day ) or, invest in some independent poetry journals and magazines (http://32poems.com/ is great and there are many others). Support local poets and writers by buying anthologies (ahem: https://www.amazon.com/Small-Things-Beautiful-Anthology-2019-2020/dp/1692331558)
  • Attend Poetry Readings (as social distancing permits–you can find online forum as well): The beauty of poetry, as I mentioned above, the ability for it to translate into the spoken art. Performance poetry will move you in ways that simply reading it cannot. By listening to poets read their poetry, you can catch a lot about word use, syllabic stress, alliteration, rhythm, tempo, and personification. Plus, the emotion of poetry is so much more present when someone is telling it to you.
  • Start Small: You don’t have to write The Iliad. Start with a haiku (5-7-5) or even put a 25 word limit on your poem.
  • There is Poetry in Every Thing: You can write a poem about a ball of yarn, a flower, the death of a loved one. Every object, feeling, action, or person can be inspiration. I once wrote a poem about a katydid I found being eaten by a wasp. I’ve written a poem about tripping. There is a poem in every thing. Find it.
  • Don’t Obsess Over First Lines or Titles: Just like pausing to edit your novel or story can interrupt the flow of creativity, worrying about creating the ‘perfect’ first line will staunch the ideas. Just start from somewhere. Like any writing, poems will undergo different rounds of changes and editing. Sometimes I don’t have a title until the final edit. Sometimes I don’t ever have a title. Don’t let that stop you from trying.
  • Tell a Story/ Express Big Ideas: One of my favorite things about poetry is that in a single stanza we can learn a world. Poets that are magnificent at this are: Maya Angelou, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Chuck Bukowski, Pablo Neruda, and Mary Oliver.
  • Use Tools: It probably sounds silly to remember your thesaurus but when we are working with an economy of words the difference between the right word and the almost right word is, as Twain said, the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. My favorite function in Word might be the “synonym” checker. Just make sure that it still conveys the flavor and tone you are aiming for.
  • Connect With Other Poets: Your local writing groups or if you follow social media, will have groups that can help you learn more, have safe places to share, and provide opportunities to submit.

Well, that was a lot of information. On Thursday I will be featuring some poems that came in last week (one from my absolute favorite fellow Wyomingites, sid sibo, is among them) There’s still plenty of time to contribute so send your experiments my way.

Until then, good luck. Delve into reading some new poetry and exploring your own abilities in the field.

Happy writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #23: “Snap To! Let’s Get Organized!”

Disappointed I can’t find an image of the scene when John Gavin shouts this line while fumbling with a live chicken and coming out of a tranquilized haze. Apparently, the internet DOES NOT have everything.

I’m not immune to the fact that this blog has tripped around in the dark a bit lately. Let’s be honest, all of us are probably tripping in the dark. We’re in unprecedented times, facing stresses and noise that we’ve never dealt with before. It’s easy, in the dissonance, to lose our path.

So for the next three to four weeks I’ll be getting organized and coming back to the basics. No, I’m not going to make you deconstruct your sentences into diagrams, circling your subject, double scoring your gerunds, slashing through your adverbs (or will I? Could be a fun practice in the lost art of sentence diagramming AND tortuous. I’m a girl who likes it a little rough).

For the love of all that is good and holy…if this doesn’t make you hot…you’re not my kind of nerd.

First, we’ll be taking a few weeks to explore the basics of each type of the most prevalent submissions for authors: poetry, flash fiction, short story, and novel.

Following that, and into the fall, I’ll start breaking it down further into genre work, dialogue, plot building, scene construct, story structure and the basics of good editing.

That’s not to say I won’t occasionally throw in a “stop being assholes to each other” rant. I like to keep it exciting after all.

It’s been a while since we dabbled in the lighter word count and heavier hand of poetry so I thought…why not start there?

(Hold on to your asses, she’s about to ADULT over here!)

Poetry used to be the sole conveyer of great stories, epic tales, and the meat and potatoes of religious creed. The first believed poem, author unknown, was called The Epic of Gilgamesh. Besides this epic, there was Rig Vedas of Hinduism, and The Song of The Harper from Egypt. Centuries before we first heard a Greek throw down an ode to an urn, people were writing poems.

Poetry was borne in the heart of burgeoning cultures and empires. As we move west across the world, we have The Iliad, Beowulf, 154 shout outs to Will Shakespeare’s best girl(s), and eventually, on to the new world with works like The Song of Hiawatha.

From these epic and structured beginnings, poetry has evolved and moved, like a river around obstacles, constant but ever-changing. One of the reasons I love poetry is its ability to capture the heartbeat of time-periods through the use of its language and form, as well as the ideas that it holds.

Poetry records history. From the simplest nursery rhymes (“Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” was actually based on Queen Mary I, aka Bloody Mary, who tortured and killed hundreds of protestants. Silver Bells and Cockle Shells aren’t perennials, they’re torture devices.) to Walt Whitman’s descriptions of the horror and decimation from America’s Civil War (“O Captain, My Captain” was written about the assassination of Lincoln just before the close of the ‘storm’ of war) poetry is a powerful conveyer of humankind’s journey through time.

Poetry connects. It’s visceral and often uncomfortable. It paints pictures with the deepest hues of language. Poetry is vital to song writing, memory retention, and a host of other deep-seated neural mechanisms humans use to survive. (the ABC song, “Thirty days hath September…”, “I before E except after C–and about a dozen other exceptions because the English language is a bastardized torture device for anyone learning it”)

So how do you write a poem?

Well, that’s the beautiful thing. We are no longer shackled to the 15 line iambic pentameter, nor are we beholden to ends that rhyme. Poetry can be written in just about any form you can conceive. You can write it, you can rap it, you can sing it, you can paint it across a street in bold letters. There are no rules but one.

Poetry should be true to your soul.

It should never be half-way. It should fling open the shutters of your close-held heart and expose it to the light. Poetry should reflect the thoughts and the feelings, the commiseration and worry, the anger and peace, the joy or the sadness that fills your head and your community.

When I think of poetry, I think of catharsis and a means to work through big and hard emotions (a girl’s favorite kind?) I think of finding meaning and perspective, shrinking down the large imposing impossibilities to moments I can do something with. To feelings I can direct towards change.

To write a poem is to be truthful about what hurts most in that moment.

I’m sure you can guess this week’s exercise. Write some poetry. In any form you want. Send it to me, let me know if you want it to have a little spot here on The Beautiful Stuff, or if you rather just share it with another soul. I don’t have a preference for form or length. Just get to the darkness, poke around in there, tickle the tender underbelly of what drives your biggest emotions and tug it out into the light.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #22: The Ugly of Starting Over

Hey Kids. Listen, last week I got on a soap box. I’m not even slightly sorry nor is this an apology, but I understand that the purpose of this blog is mostly about writing with a little bit of “living with beautiful intention” sprinkled in. Last week was more about living with beautiful intention and we can all use more of that in this day and age.  

Now, back to writing. Full disclosure: Inappropriate language will follow, so hold on to your knickers.

I’ve been working on a novel (to be honest, I’ve been working on about six of them because I have a problem seeing things through to the end six times out of ten). But this one in particular, I wrote, edited, re-edited, edited again, rewrote, edited, and re-edited all 97,000 words multiple times, always adjusting it with every rejection letter and well-deserved bit of advice. A month ago I wanted to throw it into a dumpster and burn the mother fucker to the ground. I wanted to delete it from my hard drive, the cloud, completely wipe the piece of shit off of the face of the earth. After all those years. After all that work.

It made me so mad that I couldn’t get it right and that it always felt lukewarm that I wanted to quit novel writing all together.

So I killed it. I put it in a file that, I shit you not, I called “The Piece of Shit Series That Will Never Get Published Because It’s Fucking Awful” and left it for a few months while I figured out how to rent a dumpster and get my hands on some gasoline.

Then, like any good writer, I stewed. I festered over it. I fumed.

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting words and effort.

So instead of sending it out yet again to die in some slush pile…or deleting it completely, I started a new document called “What I hate about this book” and I sat on the proverbial therapists couch and let loose all the things that I knew weren’t working and all of which were my fault as a novice writer (I started this thing even before my Fixing Destiny books). I ripped it apart, above and beyond what I heard from outside sources.

Then…at the bottom of the page I wrote, “Is it even worth saving? Is there anything about this story that you love? If you could rewrite these characters, if you could change this plot now, knowing what you know, living what you have lived, what would you make different?”

The next two pages I laid it out. If I had free-reign (ha ha ha, silly writer, that’s your piece of shit you DO have free-reign!) I would change that girl so she wasn’t such a sniveling idiot. I would make her stand up and leave. I’d give her a bigger threat to face on her own. I’d make her tougher. I’d make that boy of hers not be such a fucking mess. She’s already had to clean up enough messes.

Etc.

Now, I’m starting to like these characters. They’ve gone from wet mops to warm bread dough, bubbling with potential and depth…but still not as formed as I would like.

And here’s what I discovered after getting real and hard with myself (whoo…that sounds naughty). I can write and edit a piece of…er…work… a million times, but if I don’t really love the characters, the story won’t follow. I have to believe in them. I have to love and hate them. Not just have them on a page to hold space while the weak plot tries to build a book around them.

This week, I encourage you to take a scene that’s not working, a novel, a short story, a poem…whatever it is that’s sticking in your craw lately, and get brutal. Be fucking horrible to the work and to your part in it. Own your shit-fest and stop tip-toeing around it. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The next step is tearing it down to the foundation of what you’re trying to do, and building it up better, stronger, more beautiful.

Don’t be afraid. You have free-reign writer, to change, to destroy, to rebuild. And if you find, after tearing it apart that there is nothing that can save it, that you don’t have any love for the idea or characters, get yourself some gasoline and a dumpster. Because those horrible little projects that we don’t love enough to stick with will only serve as anchors that tie us to mistakes we need to move past.

Re-write or destroy, but don’t stay stagnant with your writing, or it may just cripple your creativity until you never pick up a pen again.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #21: The Keeper Shelf

Happy Thursday, writers! Today we’re jumping right into the craft of writing and, more to the point, how the books we read influence and inspire us. Many of us know that to be a better* writer, we must spend a lot of time reading good books.

 *I’ve heard it said many times that if you want to write well, you must devote an equal if not greater time reading, especially within your genre. I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, reading good work in your genre can be important to how you formulate story, find inspiration, and learn. But if you are doing it solely from the perspective as a writer, it can also cause you to lose a bit of that magic we call your ‘voice’. And, don’t misunderstand, I LOVE TO READ. But I will often lose myself in a good book (Thanks a bunch Chuck Wendig, you beautiful beast of a writer) to the extent that I use up most of my ‘free time’ and close the cover in a self-made brain fog, where in I can’t find my laptop let alone write something coherent. So I guess what I’m saying is: Balance.

Today, I want to talk about what you read and in particular your “Keeper Shelf”.

Ladies and Gentleman Hectic Eclectic (Part 1)

All of us have a “Keeper Shelf”, I’m sure of it. These are the books and stories that we love so much we can’t bear to part with them. They have somehow touched us, shaped us, hit that chord deep inside that makes us want to read them over and over again. This shelf is unique for each person and what’s lovely about your Keeper Shelf is that you’ve chosen these books because something about them worked so intrinsically well that you keep coming back, even when you know how it ends. These are the best ‘how to’ manuals we have as writers.

Hectic Eclectic (Part Deux). Ballerinas next to Deadpool (thanks April Kramer), a dash of Xian Terra cotta warrior and an empty bottle of what my father said was part of his worst college experience. Oh…and some of my all time favorite books. High brow.

This week, I want you to take an introspective look at an area you are struggling with in your own novel/work. For some of us, that might be dialogue. It might be story arc, it might be how best to show (not tell) emotion, character quirks, climax, scene setting, you name it. At least one of those authors on your keeper shelf has nailed a concept that you are struggling with. Once you identify what you’re trying to accomplish with a story, scene, or character, I would love you to take another look at one of your ‘faves’ that did it right.

Read, re-read, dissect it, pull it apart and diagram it on post-it notes…

“Ah, she doesn’t say Mel is sad…she makes the sky cloud over—even the setting turns dark—and  Mel misses breakfast for the third time because she can’t pull herself out of bed, and her eyes hurt, and her mom won’t stop asking her if she’s all right.”

“Ah—I can see these characters care about each other because they can pick on tender parts in their banter and only love each other more for it.”

“She leaves every chapter with a tiny cliffhanger…that’s why I can’t put it down.”

“He’s made Nessie so human and imperfect, by all the things she does despite of her internal dialogue, he makes her a hero that feels personal.”

You get the idea. It is the sincerest form of flattery and honor to use someone’s work to make yours better. Obviously, I’m not advocating for plagiarism; you will and should write your own story, but if another author’s work helps you see the difference between what works and what doesn’t, then utilize their book as a tool to get you there.

You have shelve(s) of Master’s Classes right in your own home so go through some of your old favorites and pull out the things those writers are doing to connect with you as a reader so you can do the same with your own readers.

Constant and continual improvement in our writing craft is essential to success. Because someday, we all hope that a reader gets to the last page of our book, closes the cover, puts it up on that top shelf in their library, and says, “That’s a keeper.”

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #20: Finding Romance in a Time of Disconnect

The world is a tense place right now and I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering with a busy and worried mind. These days, these times, these overcrowded houses, and insecurities about the future don’t make for good bedfellows and it’s not just artists who are suffering.

A recent study revealed that fewer people are having sex. Especially in the younger age groups. A combination of the world’s current crises, economic disparity, job loss, women’s fears of sexual violence, and a general unease about the current “hook up” culture have left a great many of us feeling as though sex just isn’t worth all the hullabaloo. (Clear sign that people aren’t getting enough play time between the sheets is the uptake in old-timey language like “hullabaloo”, “horse feathers”, “fiddle faddle”, wisenheimer”, “canoodling” and “shenanigans”)

So, what better time for yours truly to have signed up for an online Romance Writers Conference this weekend, brought to us by the lovely folks at The Wordsmith Institute. Despite feeling a little ‘meh’ about love in general, my hope is that it will ignite some latent ideas that will help me finish the two or three novels that have just been sitting like cold leftovers in my fridge.

 (I should eat that before it goes bad, but I’m just not feeling like all that fiddle-faddle. I’ll make a quesadilla.)

I’m not sure how many of my writing clan out there dabbles in romance or what your current feelings are on the matter, but I think that when we are faced with a world in such serious and important chaos, the idea of a little escapism should not be dismissed too lightly. Passion comes in many forms, and when we stoke the fires of one form, we help to ignite the others. A passionate life is not just in the pursuit of justice, it is in the pursuit of love and happiness as well. And a good romance novel will follow this pursuit.

So, for today’s exercise, whether or not you write romance, I would like you to try your hand at a touch of eroticism (there’s a double meaning in there). I’m not suggesting you sit down and write your tawdriest letter to Penthouse. I don’t want to know about girth or the overused metaphors of trembling phalluses or ‘moist’ orifices. (Yuck, I think I just grossed myself out).

I want you to find the eroticism in the small details, objects, places, memories. Eroticism is more than just what you think of when you see an eggplant emoji.

Awe, they’re canoodling! (Photo by Dainis Graveris on Pexels.com)

Take your time, focus on the minute details of moments. The way a finger plucks a grape from the vine, or how a callus feels against the small of your back. Focus on the path of a rain droplet down a leaf, the low blood-warming rumble of thunder, the smell of skin warmed by sunshine. The juice of a mango running down your wrist.

Write about those moments and observations, as if it were the world teasing you.

What makes them sensual? What makes your breath quicken?

If you need more direct inspiration, here are some great suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”:

  1. What makes you hot?
  2. Name all the sexual fruits you know? What makes them so?
  3. What do you crave when you are in love?
  4. What is the most erotic part of your body? (and please, be creative, we all know the obvious ones—reach for something more interesting—well, not literally…or yes literally–what do I care what you do in the privacy of your own home? I support however you process).
  5. Write the body as a landscape.
  6. What do you connect with? (physicality, music, touch, words: think of this similarly as how you learn. Visually, orally, auditory, by doing, by reading?)
  7. Do you remember the very first time you felt desire? When was the first time you felt erotic?

Okay! There you go, something fun to get out of the world for a minute. I hope it helps to boost your writing if not your mood. Maybe your cohabiter will even benefit from these shenanigans. As Monty Python so eloquently said: “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.

Life Without FaceBook

Let’s admit it, the last fifteen years have been a time of experimental growth for humans and their technology. Zuckerberg and his pals in Social Media Land rolled a tiny pair of dice and took the house. It is in everything we do. Its how we communicate, how we share, how we learn about each other (or at least what we choose to tell people in our half-truth screen life). It’s also how advertisers find us, how personal information is given out to people we never intended it for, and how the dangerous Echo Chamber was born.

I decided, last week, to step off of that particular merry-go-round. Yes, it hurts my online presence as a writer. But let’s be honest, not many people read my work anyway, so its not like I’m at a huge loss there. Yes, I miss seeing pictures of my friends and their funny posts, or catching up with my mom via Messenger. I miss seeing my nephew grow like a weed, and laugh at the geeky memes from my writer and nerd friends.

But one of the biggest reasons I left was that I realized how much I would miss the immediate gratification of a thumbs up sign to the comments, or pictures, or jokes that I used to post.

You see, FaceBook didn’t just sell us “connectivity” with our friends, family, and community. It sells us self-esteem, self-empowerment, even self-justification. And it reinforces those things by allowing us to filter out the people and sites we don’t agree with, and keep us comfortably surrounded by our already accepted beliefs.

Fifty likes on a post made me feel like I was some sort of rock start writer, or that I was cared about after a rough day.

Three made me feel like no one was listening and I didn’t matter.

None at all, I admit, somedays made me wonder if I existed at all…

I became a person who measured her self-worth by how many people were paying attention to me.

I became a person who was in need of the treat, like a dog who’s been clicker trained. Combine that with the perfectly filtered photos of friends, their lofty career accomplishments, their ‘humble’ retelling of good deeds done and I often felt self-stigma as to why I was not doing, being, having more. I teetered on the edge of what was real. I dove directly into self-loathing on more than one occasion.

Then, life threw in a few major world-events, the dividing lines between friends and family started cutting deeper and deeper and every post became something that set you apart from or joined you to one side or the other. Just like the Kardashians, FaceBook thrives the most when it’s got a healthy plate of drama in front of it.

We are a nation and world in the midst of a health crisis as well as sitting on the precipice of FINALLY understanding what America has been doing wrong since the creation of our country. I began to realize that no matter how loud I shouted on-line that racism was real, that being white and poor is not the same as being black and poor, that white children will never know the fear and limits that have been placed on black children, I would never change the minds of people who were not ready to accept it.

And watching that disheartening ignorance was just as bad as seeing well-MEANING friends post the trendiest slogan and know that that was the extent of their epiphany on the matter.

So I left. Not because I don’t love pictures of toe-headed babies and Star Wars Memes. I didn’t leave because I don’t like reading well-thought out and civil discussions on hard topics (a few of those do exist). I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to connect with all kinds of people from all spectrums of the scale.

I left because it’s not real. There’s always an angle, even from the most well-intentioned person.

I left because I don’t trust Zuckerberg to fact-check if it doesn’t suit his bottom line.

I left because most of the conversations I read or engaged in, have devolved into ugly name calling and personal attacks that have nothing to do with compassionate communication or the intention of trying to understand.

I left because in the last week I’ve actually connected on a personal level with friends I hadn’t talked to in years.

I left because I want to be more real and not just someone hiding myself  behind a glossy filter of anonymity.

I left because I know that all those perfect people out there aren’t so perfect.

I left because I am enough and I don’t need someone else’s approval to justify my worth.

I left because FaceBook is fucking addictive and I don’t need another addiction in my life.

I left because I can’t change the hatred driven opinions of anyone, and I’m done trying to at the expense of my mental health.

I left because my time is better spent working towards a new, hopefully better, future for every human in this country.

I left because I want to make a difference, not just crow about it for the ‘likes’.

I don’t have a writing exercise for you, but I would encourage you to give up FaceBook for one week. (They even have a ‘take a break’ option if you’re not ready to throw in the towel completely like me).

See how much time it frees up. See how much mental space it frees up. Enjoy a meal without having to share a picture. Enjoy a song and call the person who it reminds you of, instead of posting it. Try being a real person for a bit, and see how your mental health improves. Remember, we actually all got along pretty well before it came around, you won’t die without it.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #17 Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle (or How We Should Be Approaching Life in Difficult Times)

Before anyone gets their knickers in a quandary… (see, fancy words are still running over from last week)…I am not, nor have a I ever been (well maybe once but it was completely unintentional and never repeated), drunk and in charge of a bicycle.

Bradbury_2240962bThat line actually comes from an Irish Police report retold by Ray Bradbury in his book, “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Bradbury was talking about the way we approach storytelling and writing, and that is: drunk with life and not knowing where off to next. Such a trip, he wrote, is one half terror and exactly one half exhilaration.

So many schools of thought exist on how best to write your novel or short story. Plan it out, with all of the beautiful arcs, subplots, crises and climaxes, and scientifically bring it home with a satisfying resolution.

Or just write it, in wobbling paces of exhilaration and stumbling wrecks of metal and wheels.

One brings about better structure and fewer injuries…er…plot holes. It also makes the revision process shorter.

The other burns with uninhibited joy and rides the coaster of character dilemmas into the natural hills and valleys of human failure. It is organic and creative, and often a bitch to edit.

I tend to believe that not every writer is always one or the other. Usually, it is a balance between the two…much like riding a bike. The drunk part comes in when we let go of the inhibitions that close down creativity, and/or let our work be curtailed by criticism. Self or otherwise.

This is a time of both terror and not knowing what will come next. A less playful and lighthearted scenario than Bradbury probably meant.

All around us, voices are shouting and arguing. Outside there is a divisive and angry cloud, smothering the world. We are beset from all sides with advice about what we should do, should be doing, should have, should not have, what to feel guilty about, what to embrace…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

etc
Come on…”The King and I”? This is classic stuff! Yule Brenner! Somebody better be impressed.

We run the risk of letting all of these limitations and confusing ‘advice’ smother the bumbling beauty of writing the stories and characters that intrigue and bring us joy.

It doesn’t all have to be hard-hitting commentary. Let’s face it, we’re in the midst of the first three story arcs of a dystopian novel already. And if we know anything from those story lines, it’s that the true worth of the human race is often preserved in the beauty and art we are capable of.

Writing, drunk in love with the art, is Katniss putting flowers on Rue’s grave, and Peeta painting sunsets while other tributes throw spears around him. It’s Tris not choosing any one trait to define her, but embracing the balance of being a little bit of everything.

 

It’s in the saving of books instead burning them.book burning

So, the exercise is simple.

Write.

This week write. Something beautiful. Something true. Fly by the seat of your pants and damn the torpedos (yeah, I mixed my metaphors, what of it?)

Find a reason to fall back in love with your art, your characters, your world. Find a reason for us to go on. Shut the door and unplug the news, and try embracing something other than the fear and hatred that have become our everyday.

What will save the human race will be the dreamers who live, half in terror, half in exhilaration, and not knowing, exactly where we’re off to next, but knowing its beauty is only limited by our imaginations.

That takes the kind of courage rarely seen in the world today.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #16: High Emotion Words

…did no one else start singing Whitney Houston after that title?

“I get so emotional baby, every time I think of yoouooouu…”

No?

Well then go back to bed, get up again, and rethink your life.

Whitney
I don’t know why I like it…but I just do.

Today we’re getting off the poetry train (thank god, we thought it would never end!!!–ungrateful louts) and getting back into other aspects of writing, specifically word choice.

Now, I guess you could argue that this is related to poetry but right now I want you to think about words in terms of the emotions they convey and why using the wrong word can lead to either a tepid response in your reader or just plain confusion.

This is a good time to bring up the death traps of “very”, “really” and any “-ly” word you tend to over use. Chances are if you are using one of these precursors or the dangling adverb-maker, there is a better word out there for the emotion you are trying to evoke.

(He wasn’t very sorry. He was contrite, remorseful, ashamed. She wasn’t very pretty. She was luminous, stunning, bonnie or even fetching if you feel somewhat Scottish)

Remember, your ultimate goal is not to have your book or story be the one that readers want pick up because it’s an apt substitute for melatonin. You want them to not be able to put the book down, unless they need an emotional respite from the roller coaster you sent them on. So your word choice, in addition to being like an arrow to a bullseye, needs to light up hard or intense emotions in their brains.

I’m going  to offer an important disclaimer…I’ll even go so far to say as it’s imperious. Just like eating cake every day for every meal, or riding twenty rollercoasters back to back to back, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing. When you overuse these impactful words, they start to over power the reader’s ability to keep up, in addition to that, you start to sound like a goddamn narcissistic douche bag.

“Watch me word, Underlings! Witness the power of my supreme expression of the English language! Cower to my mighty thesaurus and the power of my underused MFA!”

scholar
Sure, but it keeps him from licking his balls.

ahem…you get the idea. Overuse of ‘heavy’ or ‘flowery’ language will disenchant your readers and come across as dishonest (i.e. fake like a Kardashian’s talent).

Take a scene from your current book and highlight or “find” all of your adverbs and precursors. You don’t have to replace them all but particularly (yes thats a -ly word) pay attention to the ones that describe meaningful or pivotal scenes, where you want the reader to feel what your character feels.

Jane wasn’t very sad. She was decimated. Desmond wasn’t very angry, he was enraged. Katelyn wasn’t very happy she was glowing with a newfound sense of hope.

There you go. That’s your job for this week. Oh, and here are a list of heavy-emotion words if you need a little help. If you find one or two inspirational, meaty if you will, find a home for them in your work, where appropriate.

Positive:

Jubilant, elated, ecstatic, contented, serene, vivacious, encouraging, blissful, pleased, enchanted, warm, sunny, joyful, anticipation, admiration, exquisite, graceful, delighted, amused, amiable, dazzling, mesmerizing, captivating, invigorating, splendid, charming

Negative:

Oppressive, sardonic, overbearing, irritated, obnoxious, disgruntled, disenchanted, distressed, miserable, sadistic, resentful, aggravated, sour, crippling, debilitating, horrified, heavy, loathing, disgust, desperate, contempt, brutal, bloody, flawed

Others:

Evenhanded, indifferent, passive, apathetic, secretive, secular, pious, composed, awestruck, mysterious, ambivalent, horrified, pragmatic, cautious, accepting, reserved, pensive, vigilance, ancient, delicious, feeble, solemn, famished, puzzling, complicated, massive, skeletal, tremendous, efficient

 

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #15: Poetry and An Easy-Sleazy Exercise

As we are in the last week of National Poetry month I have a couple to share from last week’s exercises before we get into some fun little distractions from your current pandemic confusion.

But first…some Verse…

 

LESSONS

 

The children must be taught

But why?

So they can “grow up”?

So they can feed this horrible and unequal shipwreck of a country?

This continuous machine that steals their joy

and forces them into tiny boxes of pre-approved paths?

Paths that continue to feed the privileged?

who ride, like great white kings, on the backs of former dreamers?

Dreamers forced to live on the crumbs of cake that fall

from their slovenly white jowls?

The children MUST be taught

A new lesson.

A new way…the way of their heart.

The way their soul already knows.

The way that shouts out,

“You don’t get to tell me what my potential is–

You don’t get to standardize my worth by tests and deficient wages.”

The lesson of straightening spines

To topple the oligarchy from their shoulders

and down into the mud, to take their turn in wallowing.

Lessons must be learned.

The children must be taught.

 

–J. McLaughlin (Fort Collins, CO)

 

And from Miss Elliana (past contributor) :

 

IMBALANCE

 

And so it is,

Not one damn word in my head,

While the world rolls and sways,

Constantly tipping the balance point

Now to humanity

Now to the hungry gnash of teeth.

And I can’t remember the last words I said to you.

I can’t remember if

I was human that night

Or gnashing.

I must have felt the full and oceanic spectrum

all the love

and the hate

desire

and regret

Heart and mind, a mirror of the worldly indecision.

I like to imagine I was kind.

Even though I’m well aware,

of the splendid mess I am

for that boy.

A stammering, uncontrolled fool.

But these are stammering, uncontrolled and

foolish times.

 

–Elliana Byrne (Boulder, CO)

 

Finally, because I cannot ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself I decided to experiment with storytelling/dialogue in poetry:

 

TRUTH

 

“The truth–“she breathed. “The truth is that love changes.

In ways we don’t expect when we first fall.

It grows and festers, or it cools and softens.

It recedes and fades.

Sometimes it aches,

like a bone that healed wrong.”

 

His thought crashed out loud.

Thick skinned rhino parting reeds.

“How did you love me?”

 

Heavy stillness settled

Hot, lazy, savanna swelter

hanging over, waterhole dried.

Air so thick, she could cut it

With the truth.

 

“The festering, aching way.”

And, since it’s still Poetry Month…here’s some ideas to squeeze in a few more exercises in the art for this last day of April!

You’re welcome.

  1. Write about something that will always be out of reach (everything from the cookie jar to the corner office)
  2. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day of a week (maybe last week, maybe an alternate universe week)
  3. What does your favorite color taste like?
  4. What it feels like when you don’t belong in a group of others. (do you want to belong or are you trying to stay an outcast? Play with the difference in those emotions.)
  5. Start the first line of your poem with a word or phrase from a recent passing conversation between you and someone you don’t know. (it can be a simple, “how’s your day going?” from the clerk at the grocery check out line, or more intrusive like a “Have you found Jesus?” concern from a person on your front door step. Maybe it’s the “It’s called a blinker, jackass!” you hear from behind you in traffic (back in the day when we sat in traffic).

Happy Writing!

 

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #14: Poetry: The Quarrel with Ourselves

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” –William Butler Yeats

 

I cannot believe it’s taken me nearly all month to remember that it is, in fact, National Poetry Month. I think I may have skimmed over something in the deluge of news clips and overthought, under-edited articles that pervade my cyber space, but in a world where days blend together, I nearly missed it.

You know what coming next, don’t you?

Oh,I’m not being lazy! It’s good practice!

And its more a matter of economy–I’ve got end-of-school projects due and a Black Belt Progress check this week, and therefore, my plate is a little full. So this week your exercise is simple. Go outside, mask it up if you find yourself in a bustling park, of course, but if it’s a deserted early morn, breathe the un fettered air, allow a scrap of paper and pen to tag along with you.

Take ten minutes of just being aware of the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? Use these observations and notice how they filter and affect the thoughts already on your mind. Have a quarrel with yourself and see what arguments emerge. What solutions? What epiphanies?

Then go find yourself a favorite place to sit and write me a poem.

I was going to give you some restrictions but I think we’ve all had enough of those. Any length, any form, rhyming or blatantly against, iambic pentameter–why the f%*k not? Limerick or Odyssey, dark or light, whatever is on the tip of your brain, no matter how sharp or dull.

Send them along, and let me know if you want me to include them in the weeks to come.

I’ll craft one as well.

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Lucky Number Thirteen

Let’s talk luck.

Serendipity is a fickle and chaos driven goddess. Sometimes she saves us from that random bus only to drop us into an elevator shaft while we’re reveling in our good fortune. As a writer, it can often feel like some guys (and gals) have all of her attention and the rest of us are left, toiling in the trenches for even a kind rejection letter.

But most self-earned successful people will tell you its not so much about being in the right place (or write place?) at the right time, so much as creating the right place consistently.

How do we create an open door for “luck” in our lives? It’s not too difficult, but it does require patience, perseverance, and consistency.

“Damn it! I knew there was a catch! This is bullshit! I want overnight success!” 

Don’t we all, skippy…but unless you’re planning to marry a train wreck of a Kardashian you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned way.

1.) Just like the lottery, your chances of winning increase by how much and how often you play.

You can’t expect to get that six-figure deal with one query letter to one big agent. Think of querying like a giant firecracker filled with the sparkly goodness of your novel, not a single-tipped arrow. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother aiming the damn thing, but you find the publishers and publications who take your kind of crazy, you follow their guidelines, and then you fire that baby off into the universe.

Wile-E-Coyote
Don’t singe yourself

 

2.) Make the chances you get work for you

Okay, you’re not always going to get the acceptance letters you were hoping for, you’re not always going to get the speaking gig or to meet with the agent you’d planned on at a conference. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing but a blank slate out there. Serendipity  exist in the overlooked opportunities.

Maybe they’re in things that you feel are beneath you, maybe they’re in jobs or gigs that you feel you aren’t exactly qualified for, maybe they’re unpaid or paltry in payback. But part of building your platform is taking risks, chances, and putting out there what you do have.

Volunteer to teach a writing class to an elementary school, offer up your book for free or discounted to book clubs that may be interested, try selling it at local coffee shops, be a beta reader for a fellow writer, guest speak at conferences or writing group meetings. It’s not just about marketing, its about seeing where the world can use your talent and opening your arms to offer it. Sometimes when we do this, Serendipity takes our hand.

two person hold hands
Gosh, I hope she washed it first. (Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com)

Disclaimer: When I started out as a writer, it was a non-negotiable fact that you took any guest blog, free article, un-paid ad copy you could to build your resume and presence. But you can’t work for free forever, and please don’t. You should reach a point where you request and follow leads that will compensate you for what you’re worth. If they don’t, load that shotgun, and take a new aim.

3.) Finally, luck is made, not stumbled upon, by those who look for it, work for it, and build their lives and routines around the openness and willingness to jump at the chances that come their way.

Saying yes. Especially when it scares you. Saying yes, even when you might stumble down that elevator shaft. Saying yes even if you’re not sure you’re good enough or bright enough. Saying yes, even if it means stepping off your life-path for a glint of time.

Yes, I’ll send my novel out to three agents today. Yes, I will write that article. Yes, I will stand up in front of a crowd (well, a ZOOM meeting these days) and talk about what’s worked for me in plotting my sci/fi/cowboy/romance/horror trilogy (hint: its probably a lot of post-its and some mind-altering substance).

Serendipity is a seedling. She might show up randomly in our garden, in a burst of color. But we increase our odds of seeing her if we tend the ground, water and feed her, and give her plenty of light.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

How will you make your own luck today?

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #12: It Can’t Rain All The Time

I used to consider myself an optimist.

But if you’ve been following me lately, you’ve probably seen a shift in demeanor. Let’s face it, nothing is normal in the new ‘now’ and I am no exception. You see, I’m a creature of routine. I’m an early-rising, mile-running, kettle-ball-swinging, lunch-packing, 1,000-word-before breakfast machine. I live my life by the beat of the day and the rolling pace of a full life. I’m going to school. I started an internship. I was in the process of finishing books and starting a new blog series.

Then…well. You know.

Life stole my beat. Circumstances started to peel away the fullness of my life. Tasks dropped off like over-ripe fruit, destined to waste on the ground.

And all I could do was watch. All any of us could do was watch.

And half the world shouted to get up and do something with this opportunity but I don’t think many of us felt the drive in our heart to listen. The other half shouted to self-care ourselves into a state of zen-like enlightenment, unicorn pajamas or Netflix binges.

But the paralysis settled, a blocked river swelling the banks with murky and stagnant water.

We were not given the time to grieve the loss of the life we were building. We have no assurances that it will ever come back, only the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same.

And maybe we feel guilty that we don’t want to let go, and we feel morally responsible to accept the change, and we feel angry, and we fell regret, and we feel lethargy, and we feel our pants get tighter and our morning’s wasted with a paralyzing sense of not knowing what will come from this. Or even what we should do in the present hour.

And the voices from all around shout well-intended advice about all of our spare time and howling at the moon, but to some, spare time means no job and rent coming due. Some don’t get spare time, they get understaffed and over worked in under prepared hospitals, fighting governments that horde supplies for what purpose I don’t know (except I’m sure there’s a profit in it for those who need the profits the least). And howling together isn’t as effective at showing solidarity by voting for someone who would have actually taken care of our neighbors four years ago with better health care, or one who would have listened to science and helped to prevent the worst yet to come.

But this morning, I got up early.

I got up early, and though my gym is closed and I miss the familiar faces that I never really talked to before, I got on the Peloton and listened to some size-two Brit tell me to take back my day. And I had a quiet cup of coffee with my cat resting on my shoulders and I wrote. I listened to Hozier and sang back-up to the words

‘I came in from the outside, burned out from a joyride”

And I made my own normal in a time that is not normal.

I miss my job. I miss my routine. And though everyone touts that we’re in this together, the truth is that we are all in this alone. We all may be experiencing the tsunami, but no one else is in your life-preserver.

So, here’s my advice to you;

Grieve as long as you need. Pajama all you want. Cry and scream and be a pessimist for as long as you feel it, and get the hate and frustration off of your chest. But do, eventually, get it off your chest. Because the world will have to reemerge sometime, and we’ll need to come out with it. And when we do, rather than have a false sense of hope that someone else guilted you into feeling, come out with a heart that has been made stronger by the process of loss. One that chose to come back in its own time, and in staying true to itself, can do the work needed without a fluffy layer of guilt to drive it. One that knows the work lies in the painful changes of growth that mean fighting some big fights to protect everyone in this country, not just the shareholders.

Because right now it’s dark, and that darkness isn’t going to go away when we’re all allowed to ‘go back’ to the life left outside. We don’t need false sunshine and social-media guru’s, we need our own resilience to look at the world as a realist does. Accepting there will be clouds. Choosing to fight the man-made shade that still seeks to darken our collective sky. Knowing there is light behind it.

After all, it can’t rain all the time.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #11: Nothing But Time (and a few expletives)

Hello writers and readers…so by today…wait, what day is it?

Fuck if I know.

I don’t know the last time I took a shower, or ate something that wasn’t in the carb family. I do know that this debacle has taught me I can’t have bourbon on an empty stomach without severe physical, emotional, and social consequences.

So, what day is it?

It’s today.

Today you may have some time on your hands. Or…on the other hand (ha–see what I did there? Clever girl) you may not have a concept of time anymore so that last sentence is moot point. In any case, you have time to read this, ergo, you may have time to write a little bit and if there’s one thing you should definitely be doing these days, it’s writing.

So let’s be like frogs and hop to it…

(Yep…I said that. Shit, dude, I don’t know, I’m in a weird place, I think it comes from not wearing real pants for three weeks and giving up alcohol…)

Last week I encouraged you to journal throughout this strange, disconnected/connected world we’re in.

Example:

(Sometimes I think it would be easier to be all the way disconnected. Enough of this social teasing and lamenting not getting to hang out. (Introverts are adjusting well, except that all the people who normally leave our lairs during the day for school and work are now part…of…our…lairs…permanently. Thus the pajamas, and carbs, and sparkling water). And while we’re breaking apart some falsehoods about the benevolent humanity bandied about on-line, a pox on the trolls that come out on NextDoor to shame neighbors they no longer have to face in person for walking past them momentarily, within five feet instead of six. They’re just trying to get out of their lairs with their lair-lings before someone ends up in a shower curtain, so chill the fuck out)

Ahem…back on topic.

Assuming you are journaling, keep at it.

Every day on this wild ride is a different day and the elation and hope of one moment are just as important as the desolation and dark of the next. Write it all down.

But if you find you have some of ‘today’ left this week, I want you to write a short fiction piece and here are your topics to choose from:

1.) Write about the first year following an epidemic. If you’re a non-fiction writer, fill it with facts and likelihoods. Inspirational/psychological/self-help, write what you think the world will have learned (if anything). Dystopian/pirate/sci-fi–this is your moment to shine, baby. The point of view can be from one character, a country, or even from the perspective of a tree, street, animal…whatever paints your wagon.

2.) If you’re tired as fuck of thinking about epidemics, and fear, and empty toilet paper shelves, and the loud shouting voices on every screen you turn on… write a short story about a person who decides to spend a year of their life alone in the woods (a la Walden, if you will) What magic can be found in that solitude? What darkness? What does lonely mean to your character? Is it peaceful or is it exile? Write it from your POV, or pick a character you’re already working with…whatever slays your dragon.

I’m not talking long here, 5,000 words tops.

Happy Writing.

It’s Thursday.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #9: Mental Floss

My daughter and I recently had an interesting discussion due to a class assignment on mental health concerning OCD, depression, and various other mental challenges. Trying to explain some of the behaviors and levels of severity made me think about my own quirks and habits that can be both positive and bordering on detrimental.

 

Creativity comes with certain mental “flourishes” that often translate into some pretty tortured souls out there, creating brilliant works of art, whether it be through paint, words, sculpture or music. In fact, I think society tends to think one almost must be tortured in some way to create.

I was listening to an interesting podcast with Florence, from Florence and The Machine, and along with her brilliant Scottish accent I was captivated by her story of alcoholism and how she used to think she had to drink to be creative. That she had to suffer, and to be spiraling down to really get to the good stuff of the soul and write music that mattered.

But then she sobered up and realized that it actually got easier to write without the heavy chained idea that suffering is the only way to make meaningful art.

It got me to thinking about how we can turn the chaos inside, into something beautiful by not fearing it. By not suppressing it or numbing it. By accepting the quirk that is you.

It’s like the person with OCD who uses their energies to post-it the hell out of an outline instead of writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” five-hundred times.

It’s all about how we use our quirks.

This week’s workshop is about finding your quirk. I don’t just want the strange dance you do when you walk through a spiderweb kind of quirk. I want the chronic kind. The one that makes you desperate for a piece of wood to knock on when the slightest terrifying thought crosses your mind. Or that makes you have to park in the same spot at the grocery store, every time.

Write a bit about your quirk, then go a level deeper and see what comes up. Why do you think you do it? Do you remember when it started? What fear drives it? What desire does it fulfill or captivate inside of you?

How can you shift it to work towards your advantage in your life and in your writing?

If you can’t think of anything, can you use your quirk IN writing as a character trait and follow how it changes your character’s life, behavior, and relationships. Write a poem about it and get past the grizzle and into the bone, or find the ridiculous humor of it to laugh at.

Self-reflection isn’t always easy and we often discover things we didn’t know were hiding in there. You aren’t required to share, but allow yourself to hurdle over the fear and discomfort to know thyself a bit better. Turn your downward spirals into whirlwind of thought and brilliance. See you next week.

It’s Here, It’s Here! It’s Finally Here!

Hey ya’ll.

I know I’ve made a lot of empty promises and delays in this project, which is misleading because it is something so dear to my heart. But there have been life hiccups and unexpected formatting issues (one just last night that came to my attention and pushed back the release by a day!)

Needless to say, this project has been on the drawing board far longer than I anticipated.

But like all good things…sometimes you just have to love it (warts and all) and let it go. So, without further fanfare, I invite you to purchase and peruse “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2019-2020”, available later today at Amazon.

Here is the link:

No Small Things Poetry Anthology

Thank you so much for your patience and support for all of the great poets who contributed. Share this around and help spread the love for artistic endeavor. Sometimes this life can be so ugly and harsh, we have to nurture the beautiful no matter how small.

If you are interested in purchasing a signed copy directly from me, please feel free to contact me via The Beautiful Stuff contact page or at sereichert@comcast.net

Until then, Happy Reading.

 

Tightrope

“Let us be kind and compassionate to remove the sadness of the world.”

 

This is a brief blog today. I’ve got a lot on my plate this week and I have to boil down the process. First, thank you for sticking with me through the new changes and I hope some of you are enjoying the writing exercises on Thursday.

In the next few months I’ll be walking a tight wire, wobbling side to side in the effort to stay balanced and I am committed to making sure my writing is still something I carry with me, despite the extra weight it sometimes brings.

So today, in honor of some of my new obligations and the every-moment-filled reality I’m currently living in, I wanted to drop a gentle reminder.

This world we live in is unbalanced and filled with sadness. Each one of us carries a weight that no one else can completely understand.

Each one of us is on a tightwire.

Sometimes it’s razor thin and sharp. Sometimes it’s wide and steady.

But the drop is all the same.

I urge you, in whatever cycle of the wobble you’re in, to remember three things:

  • Breath. In, Deep and full. To the very tops of your lungs, plus one sip. Exhale, heavy and slow, to the very bottom of your belly. At least three times, three times a day.
  • Go out of your way to be kind to others. It costs nothing, not even much of your time in its truest simplicity. But it can mean the difference between that razor edge and solid footing for someone else.
  • Be kind to yourself. Not one of us is perfect, and we’re not meant to be. Give yourself grace, to wobble, to tumble, to rest and retry.

 

On Thursday I’m going to start the blog off with some fantastic first lines from contributors as well as my own. I hope you, and your badass kind self, can join me.

Oh…and about that Poetry Anthology…Thursday. I promise, something on Thursday (she said, wobbly and arms outstretched).

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #4 Hear Me Out

 

Last week we explored some fun little writing prompts (by the way, I’m all aquiver in anticipation for those to start rolling in so…don’t keep a lady waiting, it isn’t polite). I hope that you found out something fun, disturbing, and original to spark some new projects. You clever writer, I bet they are fabulous (send them in)!

This week, in order to give your creative noodle a break, I thought I’d switch more to the editorial aspect of writing. Specifically, the sound of our writing and what it means for our readers.

Whether it’s poetry meant to be read aloud, stumbling through your first chapter at a promotional event, or having your book read by a parent to their child, the flow and sound of your “writing voice” matters and reading it out loud changes a lot about what you can only see on the page.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of using oral…

laugh

Okay. Sorry, that was the fifteen-year-old boy part of my brain thinking he’s clever.

Ahem.

Apologies.

This exercise doesn’t take much effort and is an easy way to edit a work in progress that may be in its final stages of completion. Or, if you’re a poet, this is by far the best way to gauge the power and purpose of your work.

Print out a chapter of your novel, a poem, or a short story (I suppose you can use your device or laptop—the girl who loves the feeling of paper between her fingers sighs to the encroaching dominance of technology).

Then read that piece out loud either to yourself or to your unwilling cat.

adorable angry animal animal portrait
*note: It isn’t that your cat doesn’t like your work, I’m just saying cats don’t, in general, like anything that doesn’t meet their own needs, and writing that does anything but pay homage to their divinity, tends to fall short in their demographic. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

If you don’t have an audience, I encourage you to use a mirror.

Read vibrantly, read purposefully, read with intonation and depth. Meet your eyes in that mirror and feel the story, the dialogue; that stanza of hard cutting thought.

You will start to hear your particular voice emerge and you will also find editorial errors that are invisible during the brash sweep of only eyes without the mouth getting involved.

So, get your mouth involved (*snicker* *snort*)

Oh man… come on!

I think I’ll stop there for the week.

Go read your stuff out loud. Make marks on the paper (or device) where you notice inconsistencies, mistakes, or ‘not right’ words.

Change them, make it better.

I’ll catch you next Tuesday for exciting news about the Poetry Anthology.

The Beauty of Quiet

You can feel it, like a vibrating pulse, constantly surrounding us. It’s in the buzz of the lights, the ringing of phones, the blip of messenger, the ping of news alerts. It’s the hum of electrical devices and the glow of screens. It’s a blanket of noise and light, sound and motion. It’s the modern, ‘marvelous’ world we live in.

And it’s killing us.

Our brains are beautiful machines, designed to process incoming information from our senses and filtered through our own experiences and knowledge until they are the equivalent of a constantly running mainframe that makes millions of decisions a day, from a billion different choices and scenarios. And we live in a world where the information is at hand in any moment we desire, from thousands of different outlets and devices, constantly spewing out anything you’d like to know and most things you wish you didn’t.

And yet our brain no longer knows itself.

With a constant barrage of noise and information from outside along with the endless distractions permanently affixed into the palm of our hands, we have lost our ability to know who we really are and what is really important to us.

After all, without quiet alone time, our thoughts and therefore our minds become products of all that we take in. Without solitude for true self-reflect, unplugging, and just being in our own heads, we become part of the noise, this capitalist driven machine that has stopped questioning what it really means to be happy. Implanting ideas of material wealth and social forum acceptance as the cure all to the emptiness we feel.

We are too busy, we are too distracted, we are devoid of personal and private time. Our lives have become fishbowls; both open for inspection from anyone paying attention and also offering 360-degree views of everyone else’s business.

When was the last time you took 15 minutes of complete silence, without any external distraction?

Don’t have the time? It’s equivalent to about two Facebook checks, three cute cat videos, or two over-polarized news articles.

Don’t think silence makes a difference?

In a study published by Psychology Today, quiet contemplation was proven to dramatically improve our brain’s ability to sleep more soundly, stave off depression and anxiety, improve cognitive and behavioral function and even help fight chronic pain.

(Ahmad, S. (2019, July 17). Meditation and Mental Health. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health)

We all know what happens when a computer overheats. Shit starts to go wrong.

Very wrong.

Depression and anxiety have never been at higher levels. Everyone on this planet is walking around with their nose stuck to screens waiting for the world to tell us what to value, what to be, what to feel…Waiting to tell us that we’re good enough. When the only person we should be seeking these answers from is ourselves.

I know it’s a little ironic to be preaching a sermon on getting off your tech from the pulpit of a blog. It doesn’t escape me that I’m keeping you here for some of those minutes we waste. But I’m doing it as a public service.

Get off your screen, take a break from the games, and social media, and frenzy of sound and light.

Because while the outside world is distracting you with all of its splendor, you’re missing the really beautiful stuff, the REAL stuff, that resides right in your own head. Go have a thought. All on your own. Follow it around for a bit without Google force-feeding you the answers.

Please. For your health, for the health of this planet and all human beings, do this thing.

Living beautifully means living. Not just watching fabricated life from the strangest social experiment ever concocted, but really spending time with yourself, with face to face conversations, with the space to breathe and let go of all that nonessential bullshit and make peace in the quiet.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week 2- Mission Possible: Drafting A Writing Statement

Read that title, again would you?

 

I know, right?! SNOOZEFEST!!!

I promise, this isn’t going to be as painful as it sounds and it might be one of the most useful tools you have when it comes to guiding your writing. A writing mission statement turns vague hopes for an outcome into solid ideas and language.

So what is it that you want your writing to do?

Last week I asked you to compose some answers to questions about your writing in hopes that you can expand on those answers in the coming weeks and use them in addition to our exercises to flesh out your writing career.

From those answers, you should have written down aspirations for what you wanted to accomplish in a year, month, week, etc, and the small manageable goals that can get you there.

This is a little different.

Thinking about the work in progress you’re embroiled in (be it a novel, an article, an essay, or directions on how to make a giant rooster shaped cake)

rooster cake2
Join me next time when I explain how writers are masters of procrastination. Like, looking up images for rooster cake.

I want you to write down what you hope to accomplish with this particular work. We’re talking end game stuff here. What do you want the people reading your work to walk away with afterwards?

Example 1:

Say you’re working on an article about the wage disparity in large corporations.

Take ten to fifteen minutes and write what outcome you want to see as a result of your article. How do you want people to see your subject of the story? How can you make them identify with the people involved? Is it to educate? To change policy? Do you want to give them the tools to make changes, or just to think about it in a new light and in a way that encourages discussion?

Once you know the end goal, it will affect how you write the story.

 

For novelists a mission statement is integral to developing a relationship with your reader via your characters.

Example 2:

I want my readers to identify with a cranky, semi-violent spirit, haunting an old seaside house and fall in love with him. I want my readers to feel the sting of being trapped, and the power of love to soften hurt.

 

Writing about what you want to write will actually help you know what you need to learn in order to accomplish this mission statement.

 

So here’s your job this week:

  • Write a short mission statement for your work in progress or your next work.
  • Share it with someone (accountability bitches)
  • Where is the next, imagined destination of this work?
  • If you have time—study some of your old work, and see if you can write a mission statement for them—what did you learn from each?
  • If you have time—think of your favorite articles, books, masterpieces and see if you can decipher what the mission statement was for them.

Oye, so much work. Don’t make me crack a whip.

Again, feel free to share. I love hearing about your purpose in writing and remember that sharing that will help to manifest your goals!

Next week we’re dipping into some heavy creative work to balance out all of this business side.

 

Take care!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Welcome!

Good morning writers, authors, editors or accidental guests.

This is the inaugural blog for The Beautiful Writers Workshop, a year-long journey into developing your craft through exercises in creativity, editing techniques, inspirational prompts, and building the framework for your writing career.

Some of the blogs will inspire. Some blogs will lean more to the technical side of writing. But whatever the weekly topic, you can be assured of two things:

  • You’ll have a prompt or exercise to help develop your writing (and the opportunity to share it)
  • I’ll try to keep it spicy enough to be enjoyable.

 

So let’s get rolling! I searched through nearly all of my favorite books on writing for a perfect topic for our first lesson together but the truth is, there are just too many (good and bad) ideas out there.

So I’m going to start simple and ease you in gently to this process.

If you’re here you are either interested in writing, or are already doing it and are looking for something to add to your tool box. In order to appeal to all levels today’s workshop is centered on the basic purpose of your writing.

Below are a few questions that I’d like you to read, think about, and journal down your answers to. You can share them, you can keep them secret, but DO WRITE THEM DOWN.

Something amazing happens when we write down goals and steps to reaching them. The process becomes manageable; the goals become real. It’s one of the many beautiful and powerful attributes of writing.

  1. Without judgement or discouragement, and being as direct as possible: what is the ultimate, lifetime goal you have for your writing?
  2. What can you do to kick start this goal in the next 12 months? (hint: where do you need to start, where do you need to grow most for the big picture)
  3. Is this yearly goal attainable? WHY OR WHY NOT?
  4. Of your reasons from #3, think about the fears, limitations or concerns that formed these reasons. Name them. What do you foresee keeping you from moving forward on this yearly goal?
  5. Of the fears, limitations and concerns, what are the possible solutions or actions you can take to eliminate them? (hint: each limitation/fear/concern gets its at least one action you can take to overcome it)
  6. If you have a planner or calendar, write down one weekly goal (eliminating distractions, word count requirement, number of submissions out, editing, classes etc) that will help overcome the hurdles you have to your writing.
  7. Looking at these weekly goals, find specific and measured times you have to dedicate to their success and write them down.

Okay, that’s it! I know, it’s a little dry but when building a house you have to have a solid foundation first or none of the pretty architecture above it will survive. So build your foundation, know where you’re coming from and next week we’re going to talk about:

Mission Possible: Drafting your Writing Mission Statement

(that sounds super boring but it will help writer’s across the spectrum. I promise!)

 

New Beautiful Stuff

 

Welcome back to The Beautiful Stuff!

It’s been a few weeks so I wanted to offer my sincerest thanks my readers out there for having patience while I took a little break from the blog. It was a perfect time to reset the old creative battery, try out a few new avenues, and make the new (and hopefully attainable) goals for the beginning of the next decade.

 

Last decade-turn I was stupid-big with my second baby and can’t recall much except I got winded a lot and had a really big problem with Whole Foods two-bite cannolis.

cannoli.jpg
I think I had at least a hundred two-bites in that last trimester…that’s two hundred bites

The baby turned out to be an amazing individual who is turning her first decade this year. Needless to say, back then I wasn’t thinking of the significance of a new ten years. I was thinking about potty training the oldest and trying not to tumble over while tying my shoes with a mouthful of cannolis.

But now here I am, in a less-rounded ten years and more in control of my mental faculties (still not so much control in the sweets department, but I’d be boring without SOME imperfections) and ya’ll are getting new and improved writing tools, inspiration, and help in the coming year.

First and foremost, (drum roll please) at the end of this month I’m launching The Beautiful Stuff’s first ever poetry anthology, entitled “No Small Things”.

I’ve been working hard over the holidays to get it organized, edited, and prepped. I must say, this is a beautiful little book with some amazingly talented writers contributing. I will give you updates on its release, book signing information, local stores who will be carrying it, how to get a copy if you aren’t local. If you are a writer or even just an avid reader interested in providing feedback and reviews for the book, please contact me and I’ll hook you up with a free copy.

Secondly, on Thursdays instead of the VerseDay you’ve grown accustomed to, I will be offering mini workshops; aptly named The Beautiful Writers Workshop, to get your creative juices flowing. If you’ve been inspired enough to write something you’d like to share, I will be offering a Monthly Writer Showcase, where you can promote your work, give a short bio, and/or provide a guest blog with any useful information you might have or want to share.

The Tuesday blog will move to only bi-monthly and will be more focused on The Beautiful Stuff of human existence outside of writing.

So there you go.

Recap for those of you who are cleansing and are a little foggy:

  • “No Small Things: The Beautiful Stuff 2020 Poetry Anthology” is out at the end of this month
  • Thursdays will feature The Beautiful Writers Workshop– free craft exercises to help break up the monotony and spark some inspiration.
  • Monthly Writer Showcase: Contact me if you’re interested in contributing!
  • Normal blog will be every other week on Tuesday and will center around The Beautiful Stuff of life.

If you’re in the middle of a learning new, healthier habits, I wish you good luck. If you’ve decided you’re just fine as is and aren’t changing a thing, I say good on you and keep on keeping on.

See you Thursday.

(By the way, The Beautiful Writers Workshop totally constitutes a valid excuse for buying new pens and pencils—you’re welcome.)

VerseDay 12-19-19

Watch

 

i was dying,

pared open on the floor, crying the way you do,

when no noise comes out anymore

and your face hurts from the skin being pulled too tight

over bared teeth.

 

Between silent sobs

i was dying

then i heard

the faint heartbeat, a whisper stroke

i stilled to listen,

right on the second

every monosyllable played precise

and the battle i’d been fighting on the floor

fell away in the space between tick marks

i clung to the sound like the edge of a cliff

something real, but soft

something consistent and true

 

i pulled open the dresser drawer and found

an old watch

face up beneath the quagmire of things i’d shoved in

band frayed

years neglected

but still beating.

And i thought…maybe

maybe if i just focus on

the ticks

the right on time,

instead of the death within me,

i could calm myself enough to sleep.

 

i’ve been wearing it now for three days

so when i remember my heart is gone

it lends me its own.

i hold it close to my ear

and listen for the next mark, and the next

and in this way i go on

 

i don’t know what will become of me

Of my heart

When the ticking beat

Ticks it’s last

 

 

Yes, My Dearest, There Is A Santa Claus

Okay, you can call it a cop out, but I loved this blog and I’m rerunning it.

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 petty and divisive 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 (or find the similar site for your own state) and spread some joy:

Colorado Gives Day

And now, grab a tissue and enjoy…

 

Dear Madelyn and Delaney…

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

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

To this I say…shut it 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 was/is not our finest hour as humans.)

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

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

…uh…

nativity

 

If they can suspend reality, even base their lives around an 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?

(To be clear–I’m an equal opportunity believer so I won’t touch your demigod hippy if you don’t touch my fat guy in a red suit.)

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

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

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

Here’s what I know…

 

Santa is real and magic exists.

 

How can I be sure?

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

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

If that’s not magical, what is?

Here’s what I also know.

 

There are two types of people in the world.

Those that destroy joy, and those that spread it.

 

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

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

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

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

I say, 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 radiating from the 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.

 

I can’t decide for you, 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.

 

What will you choose?

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

VerseDay 12-5-19

To the moments that change us. Those irreversible seconds, milliseconds, and angel-blinks, that unpend and rearrange the perspective of our lives. May you get upended occasionally.

 

The Moment

 

It took just one

One moment

One pitiful moment

For my heart to fall

In the sanguine, irretrievable way

Blood loss, heavy weight of love gain

 

One moment

And my skin ached

For even the slightest brush

Touch of finger pad,

The heat of your chest against my back

The press of thigh and breath

Drifting warm over my throat.

 

Even if it hurt.

 

One moment

And my world was

you

It was the tenor of your eyes

And the color of your voice

And the expectation and the push

And the never living up to it all

But reaching for your stars just the same.

 

One moment

Was one moment

too long

 

Too long for this heart to sustain

Too long for this soul to survive

You were a flash cannon going off

On the precipice of my too-late blink

 

Such a brilliant scorch,

Killing instantly,

even before the pain could hit

And what a lovely light remained

burned into the back of my eyes

 

One moment and still

you

were the last thing

I ever wanted to see.

 

VerseDay 11-28-19

I probably should have stuck to a Thanksgiving type of theme. But maybe this could be considered in gratitude for the strength we house within ourselves. The strength that keeps us standing up for every knocking down we take. Be grateful for all you have, but don’t forget to include your amazing human-ness.

Travel safe, enjoy the company you keep, and take the moments you can to breath and be present.

 

 

Acrobat

 

Tin cup chalice

Beaten down vessel

Watched by the hungry darkness

of her heart

To fail.

 

The told-you-so on the tip of lolling tongue

Ready to fire as I teeter on the edge, unbalanced.

The narrowed gaze of predatory glee

 

Any day now,

She’ll fall

Any day now,

She’ll wear out that last leg

She’s so precariously perched on.

 

Waiting to be the first

To gloat over my fallen corpse.

 

But I don’t fall

 

And I don’t wear out

 

I bear the dents,

Scratches and cracks

And still

 

I hold true.

 

I always hold true.

 

Any day. Every day.

 

If you really knew me,

The miracle you made

 

You would know this first.

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

Good morning!

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

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

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

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

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle and toil is worth little for the likely outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. That it is not all we are working for.

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

We can.

You can.

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

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

VerseDay 11-21-19

Good morning Poetry aficionados, thanks for joining me here on this blustery fall day. I think we’re beginning to finally see the petticoats of winter and the darkening days are upon us.

Sometimes, my friends, I come across a poem so powerful, so raw, so honest, that it moves me from some deep well inside. It connects me to my humanity and to the visceral pain of life and what it takes to come out the other side still kicking.

Today’s guest Verse is brought to you by Kathryn Balteff.

Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.

While Kathryn mostly is known for her poetry, she also pens essays, fiction, and killer to-do lists. Drawing inspiration from the landscape, sea, and the cosmos, Kathryn often can be found wandering the rocky trails near her home along the coast of Downeast Maine with her husband and their collie dog, Lady Kate.

Enjoy, share, and if you like it, let her know.

 

Good Daughter

 

You threw the plate to the floor at her feet.

The damn eggs were overdone, not over-easy, how stupid was she? I listened

and watched

while you cursed, threatened, and bullied my mother. Strange how I remember the first time, but never the last.

 

When I was older, Maybe nine,

I protested

Standing over her,

futile, scraggly-legged, human shield while she cowered on the floor

shards of broken gin tumbler around her feet.

You paddled me until I screamed

then made me write part of a Bible verse

1000 times at the desk in the corner of my room

Black-and-white grade school composition book chewed-end yellow Number 2 pencil

King James in childish printing.

“Thou shalt honor thy father. . .Thou shalt honor thy father. . . Thou shalt honor thy father . . .

 

I was stupid like her and

Ugly too.

 

I did not want to be that girl.

 

When I was eleven there was a college kid, Noreen, one of your students,

around our house,

a lot.

She was there so much my little brother named a stray cat after her. I hated that cat.

There was a party near the holidays.

Rock music, too loud laughter, cigarette smoke creeping upstairs under the door of my room where I

was supposed to be sleeping. I snuck down,

three stairs to the first landing, to see.

 

You in the dark hallway

with Noreen smashed up against the wall.

You were laughing.

She struggled silently against you. She looked up through tears.

She saw me.

 

Quickly I pushed myself backwards, sliding up the stairs. I crept into my room,

eased the door shut,

pushed my nightstand under the knob. hid in my closet, blanket over my head.

 

In the morning my mother was trying

to scour away the stench of stale alcohol, cigarettes, and something else I sensed, but did not understand. Because I moved my furniture without your permission, you made me scrub every inch of my room

and the bathroom again

and again

until you decided they were clean enough. I did not want to be that girl.

In high school I ran. I ran.

You bragged of being a track star when you were in school. You would be proud, I thought.

I was good.

For a girl.

But never good enough.

 

Still, I ran.

The day you finally left us,

I came home from track practice to find my mother ironing your shirts so you could pack them in the backseat of your car.

She was crying,

You were screaming obscenities at her. I shrieked at you to leave her alone. Just. Get. Out.

 

You pushed me hard to the ground

One leg buckled underneath, my other knee sliced open wide on a rock in the dirt.

Hot blood dripped down my leg onto my turquoise running shoes.

You told me that I got what I deserved

Again.

 

 

Who did I think I was?

I would learn my place. I ran.

A friend’s mother patched me up.

She never asked what happened.

I didn’t say.

I would not be that girl. I kept running.

Medals of tenacity clinking a rhythm against the varsity letter on my jacket. Years and years now

I have not run.

Still I hear those medals

as they marked each footfall that took me farther.

 

 

“I am dying,” your note says.

“You should be a good daughter.” “You should come to me.”

 

I will never be that girl.

 

You have been dying four long years since the cancer first arrived in your alcohol-preserved liver. The first year I grieved the what-ifs and could-have-beens,

the if onlys.

 

I lived sorrow, angst, guilt, anger, and more.

 

Those gaping, bloody wounds the years had slowed, yet not fully healed,

tore open.

Ugly infectious mess

seeping out onto my clean, though imperfect skin.

 

I am my own.

Only what I create.

Myself.

I can at least thank you for that.

 

I trim the ragged wounds with a new blade, delicately slicing away rot and neglect.

Pull the edges together,

Stitch neat, tight, hidden rows sealing up leaky vessels.

Add a drop or two of glue for good measure.

 

 

Mending well is hard work through so many layers.

 

There.

I look almost new again. I am this woman.

 

Kathryn Balteff

 

VerseDay 11-14-19

Happy VerseDay my dear readers. Today’s contribution and ode to the brave and selfless men and women of our military comes a from a long-time (I wouldn’t say we’ve known each other since we were knee-high to a grasshopper, but pretty damn close) and dear friend, Ethan Hejki.

Enjoy, share, and take a minute to contemplate what it means to serve our country, and the high costs both to body and soul it demands.

 

 

Untitled

 

I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go.
I did what others failed to do. Not by choice

but necessity
I asked nothing from those who gave nothing.
I took nothing from the unwilling.
I was the hero and the villain.
I have accepted the fate of eternal loneliness

and damnation for my actions

I have seen the face of terror

and the face of happiness
I felt the stinging cold of fear

the searing heat of rage
I have heard death’s whisper, beckoning to me.

Soon, soon
I enjoyed the sweet taste of love

the bitterness of loss

I have cried pained and sorrow. but most of all,

I have lived times others would say were best forgotten.

At least some day I can say that I was proud of what I was.

A soldier.

 

Ethan Hejki