Stephen King once mentioned that if you, as a writer, didn’t have time to read, then you didn’t have time to write. Even more recently, at the closing remarks of this year’s NCW writing conference (https://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/) I was reminded by the incomparable Teresa Funke (https://www.teresafunke.com/) that writers who read shouldn’t consider that time ‘wasted’ or a guilty pleasure. Every book we read teaches us something about the craft, our own voice as writers, and provides us with inspiration and information that will be useful in our own projects.
So, as the warmth of lazy days approaches (ha ha–just kidding, if you’re a parent, summers aren’t ever lazy), I’ve compiled a list of books that may be of interest to writers, as well as some good-ol-fashioned brain candy. Let’s be honest, no one wants to spend their summer vacation slogging through a MFA reading list–gag me. The books below should be helpful AND entertaining. Each has been selected because it offers insight to the craft of writing or has brilliant use of good writing…or it’s just plain fun to read.
“On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft” Stephen King: I read this one every year. He’s down to earth, helpful, at times hard-assed, and others vulnerable. A beautiful book.
“The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience” Chuck Wendig: Holy shit snacks… If you haven’t followed Chuck Wendig’s blog (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/)or read ANY of his books, you need to rethink where your life is heading. Part heart-felt genius, part sacrilegious savant, “Kick-Ass” is a fun and mildly irreverent romp through the derelict world of writing and I can’t love the man’s sense of humor or talent more.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” V.E. Schwab: I told you it wasn’t all about writing manuals. This book is poetically beautiful, curious and heart wrenching. It’s a little tragic, a little romantic, and has just enough magic realism to make you feel like you’re cheating on your homework by reading it. Schwab also does a beautiful job transitioning through time, space, and POV.
“Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You” Ray Bradbury: I’d like to think, because we share a birthday, some of his playful brilliance will soak into my brain by some sort of weird Zodiac osmosis…hasn’t happened yet. This book is full of good advice, and assurances that the writing mind is not meant to be ‘normal’ and also that writing what we love, even if it’s labeled as low-brow or ‘not literary’ is more important than trying to get our books into an MFA program. As Bradbury says: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
“Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” Blake Snyder. Is it the last book on screenwriting I’ll ever need? Probably not. But even if you’re not a screenwriter this book has good information about story beats, plotting, character development and writing a story that audiences (your readers) will both love and be satisfied with. On a side note, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book that may someday transition to film, this is a great book to check out in understanding the process of writing a compelling story that live audiences will love.
“Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life” Teresa R Funke. https://www.teresafunke.com/ This book is not just a boost of energy and inspiration, it’s a good ‘life skills’ book. We all need to know that our ideas matter, that it is possible to pursue our dreams and find the time to make them a reality, but this book offers helpful insights on how to do it and why it’s so imperative that we do. Teresa is not only a brilliant author but an amazing, down-to-earth, and kind human who has enough experience in the world of writing to know what she’s talking about.
Well, there you have it. I hope you get to read some of these this summer. If you don’t, I encourage you to pick up a few books in your genre and a few outside of it. See what you can learn. Even–try something out of your scope of practice (Non-fiction/Fiction) and see how the other half lives. Something is to be gained from every page we take in. Happy reading out there!
Good morning, Beautiful Readers! Today’s blog and poem come to us from the incredibly talented Bethany Beeler. https://www.bethanybeeler.com/. Please enjoy an in-depth look at why poetry offers us intense and true experience, in an angel’s breath of time and, as Beeler so eloquently says, “poems are your and my experience of a unique and intimate moment that can’t be replicated“
I would love to see some discussion on this blog so shoot me your comments and questions. Also, look forward to enjoying some of Bethany’s poetry in The Beautiful Stuff’s new anthology “Wilderness of Soul“, out next Fall.
Here’s a little more about Bethany and where you can find her work:
Author of North Street Book Prize Finalist, How to NOT Know You’re Trans., and artist, Bethany A. Beeler was born and raised in the Pittsburgh, PA area. After college, she settled in Texas for the next 37 years with her wife Pamalyn, raising three children, and mayoring the city of Krum, TX. She’s been a professor, teacher, and tech writer. Her work has been published in The Twinbill.
Goddess fingernail moon over pines, Crepe myrtle early Bloom. Huntress Belt, chaste and fair, Hekate Gift and swoon. Thrush song’s Dark, creeping Cold Grips my soul. Walk apace, Venture, snap, Brittle face, I Take her lavender Kiss, lips trembling. I Sing silent, sibilant, unsated heart, hand in Nest, breast aflame, this (Nipple spark) Touch too wet, Soft. I Hush, her hand awash in Me, greet, guide, hold, caress, I Burst, dripping Star and comet, quasar and Dust, fecund harvest, Birdsong lush in night of Morn and noon. She takes Me home too soon to sleep in Parted lips, hastening another Kiss.
In The Alphabet Versus the Goddess , Leonard Shlain says that “written words and images are entirely different ‘creatures.’ Each calls forth a complementary but opposing perceptual strategy.” He’s wrong in two ways—words and images are not merely complementary but are abstractions of a deeper reality, which, of course, also means they aren’t in opposition at all. That deeper reality is experience, which is neither an abstraction nor a material thing but an event that is life itself. Nowhere do we better see the wholeness of which image and word are but facets than in poetry. Poems are liminal moments of experience. If novels can be likened to movies and short stories to snapshots, poems are not even the camera flicking on; they’re the threshold between “on” and “off,” an event that can’t be filmed or recorded but experienced only. We don’t observe poems. We live them.
In poetry, words cease to be signifiers but image things themselves, and images cease to be “like” anything but word experience itself. When I write a poem, I’m both aware of and oblivious to being watched. The absorber of a poem is eavesdrops on the speaker’s liminal/threshold experience. I am not the speaker of my poems, but we couldn’t eavesdrop on that speaker without me as the poet and you the voyeur. I hope you feel the same about poems you write and ones you take in. Whether composed or received, poems are your and my experience of a unique and intimate moment that can’t be replicated. The quality of your and my experience and the event you and I consummate is more unique than you and I are individually. Here, in this moment, at this doorway, we meet in a way we’ll never meet again, even upon repeat couplings. Ours forever, it can’t be taken away.
So what is “ours” about “Another Kiss”? I love words sounding to me without my thinking about them. I want their thud, slither, or hiss to knell me and you without their having to “mean something.” Simply put, I try to make words “image” experience for you and me. That being said, consciously or not, I don’t choose just any words to thud, slither, or hiss us. Those chosen words image a river of cultural and personal significance for you and me. In a poem, we step into a river that was there before us, caresses us right now, and will tug us after. But you and I change its course. For the better. In a way no one alone, nor any other pairing of persons can recreate.
But I want us to recreate, too. And “Another Kiss” is as sensual a poem as they come. I swallowed this night, wooed by plants, scents, breezes, stars. I invite you to seduce the event, as the event. For you and I are the event. Enjoy.
Ya’ll, I’m super excited to feature this next artist. Not only is she a beautiful writer, and a wonderful person, but the poetry she sent me is some of the most sensual, melodic, and moving work I’ve read in a while (AND anyone who knows my novels, knows I have a particular longing in my heart for Mainers). Please enjoy and feel free to share!
Our beloved poet, Jennifer Lockwood George comes to us from the coast of Maine, where she teaches writing to college freshmen who live in little Zoom boxes with their names in the corners. She graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine in 2019. Her work has appeared in The Kankakee Daily Journal, Muse, Stonecoast Review, and The Ginger Collect. Her novella was published serially in The Silver Pen’s Youth Imagination online literary magazine. She has also been a guest writer on the Celebrities in Disgrace blog.
And Then Nothing Happened
You pretended your English was terrible. You asked me to stay to sort out your syntax, to smooth your eager consonants and soften the accent that told stories you would never pronounce.
I would not correct the music that came from your lips.
You wanted me to turn grammar into an aria. You leaned closer as I sang each conjugation.
I pretended I wouldn’t give my right arm to hear you play the piano, but I could have spent forever watching you coax desire from ivory and wood.
I wanted to hear you recite Lizst with your eyes closed, tilting your chin upward in rapture tightening your jaw at the climax, rosé wine tinting your cheeks at the final decrescendo.
You taught me scales and finger positions.
We were forbidden liquor; neither of us would drink.
You called my name as I left your studio. My coat was on.
You offered me wine. The notes you poured flowed over the piano keys and onto the floor, flooding the room, rising from my feet, to my ankles, then my knees.
My vision blurred. My coat became a drunkard’s snare, my purse strap a bond I could not escape.
I fought against your concerto, fought not to sway fought not to dive into the flow fought not to ask you to pour more.
I could not reach the door; Music’s brazen kiss had backed me against the wall—
Until your fingers collapsed on themselves and you forgot how the rest of the song went.
While Link set up the lines to refuel the ship, Rhea visited the great Hall of Books. Laria shed her outer layers with relish as if coming home and kicking her shoes off. She sighed and rolled the tension from her neck while Finn watched her from the corner of his spectacles. He never pressed, but she somehow felt compelled to speak in his presence. She watched Rhea gasp through the stacks of books, reaching out to touch only to pull her hand back in fear or reverence.
“I’m sorry to come here. I’m sorry to bring trouble,” Laria began and looked down at her dirty clothes. Finn was accustomed to seeing her disrobed to her under garments, as she tended to shed the extra weight of armor and weaponry shortly after entering The Library. He motioned for her to join him in her quarters at the end of the hall. He never offered her room to any other visitor or traveling scholar. It was Eularia’s room, even without her around. Some nights, when the desire of missing her was too great, and the Ring’s hold on her too strong, he slept there.
“Rhea is no trouble.” He assured, glancing over his shoulder to where the young girl was cautiously exploring the section of biological texts.
“She’s—I don’t know what she is, Finn, but I gotta bad feeling about this. About her.”
“Because T’Elliot contacted me before his ship was blown to nothing-dust to tell me she needed to be protected. I feel like this could be—” she paused to scowl, “more important than I like to get involved with.”
Finn’s eyes settled on her thin, once-white camisole and shook himself into reality.
“Well, we mustn’t place too much on our feelings about getting involved—” coldness tinged his words.
“Finn—” she whispered. “I can’t—You know why I can’t be here with you all the time. I’ve got too many enemies. I’ve got too much baggage. I don’t belong in one place for long. I don’t belong anywhere,” her voice cracked with the weight of the day.
“You could if you chose to! You could stay, here. You could stay with me,” he said suddenly and turned away; his whole body flushed with heated blood. “I mean here…in the book stacks. In the quiet. Aren’t you tired of fighting all the time?” he whispered and she felt his frustration in the space of the room.
Laria sighed. He wasn’t wrong.
“Kronos, yes,” she admitted and stared down at her scraped and bruised hands. “It’s just—Rhea. She’s different, Finn. She’s—she’s a map.”
“You mean she has a map? What kind of map?”
No. I think she is a map.”
“A map to what? Treasure?”
“She says it’s something called the Conduit.”
Finn’s brows drew in and he studied her.
“Yeah? Did I stutter?”
He turned and raced up the ladder to the top shelf of books; the ones he’d kept away from public view in fear that they’d be destroyed or stolen. Books he hoped to read to her someday.
He was instantly preoccupied with the search for whatever the word had inspired in him, and hunted through the rows with lingering fingers and soft words pressed between his lips; whispered names, dates, titles. For long minutes he went on.
“Okay…look, I’m gonna go clean up. You—” but Finn didn’t acknowledge her or even pretend to have heard in the midst of his fixation. “Right. Keep on, doing what bookies do.” She said, partly annoyed but mostly enamored with Finn’s singular focus.
Link met up with her in the hall, olive eyes falling to her light camisole, before snapping to attention.
“I’ll find the kid a place to stay, and I’ll hold off on calling my contact until we figure more out,” he said, resigned. Laria looked at him and sighed.
“Look, Link. I know it’s been a rough day.”
“And—how is that different from any other turn for us?” he smirked.
She reached out and dug a piece of shrapnel out of his leather vest. He watched her lithe fingers dislodge the shard. He heard her sigh.
“You’re not the worst partner a pirate could have.”
Link smiled and took the sharp piece from her hand, fingers grazing. “Why that might be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he smiled, dashingly. She rolled her eyes and headed for the shower room.
The ability to wash up after the smoke-filled battle and the remnants of days without water was a decadence rarely afforded. Water was not something they had an abundance of on the ship. Though the moon of Titan was made almost purely of ice, the Royals found a way to market everything and could turn a profit from rock if it suited them. But The Library, once a rectory of power and the hubris of man’s infantile knowledge, had been equipped with running water, electricity, and quite a comfortable existence for something not directly controlled by the Royals. It was lucky for them at all that Link happened to be school-friends with Finn. It had certainly made the difference in her life.
These thoughts and the strange history of her connection to Link and Finn played on her mind as she stripped off her underclothes and stood beneath the warm and indulgent spray. The grime of the Ring and ship life washed down the drain in rivulets of gray and left her skin, once again softly pink. The warmth seared the grazes of bullet wounds and shrapnel kisses and the caked-on blood slowly faded in ribbons down the drain. Her hair, less silt gray, her muscles less tense.
“What do you know about Saturn Rising?” The question cut the stillness as Finn rushed in, book in hand and glasses fogging from the bottom up. He tore them off and began flipping pages while steadily approaching the open tiled semicircle where she was unabashedly facing him beneath the spray.
When he did look up, his throat contract in a hard swallow, the book softened in his hands. Eyes lingered; lips parted. She raised her eyebrows and thought of how many other men she would have killed in such a situation.
“Saturn Rising? Is that what you call it?” she said and looked down below the heavy volume to his very unscholarly reaction.
“I—apologies—” he fumbled and left the room with the stiff-legged pace of a man who’d encountered an immobile wall and was forced to go someplace else.
Laria stared after him and scowled. “Years alone in a monastery and that’s your response?” A pause from the
“I’ll speak to you when you’re dressed.”
“Men are stupid.” She grumbled and toweled off.
When she rejoined the group in the main hall, Link sat playing Druidroll with Rhea over the checkered octagon, both strategizing over the next three moves. Finn was at the table, a cup of tea going cold in front of him, his eyes cast deliberately down into the pages of the book.
“How was the shower?” Link asked with his eyebrow raised.
“It was wet,” she said, ignoring Finn.
“Good, I hope you used soap, you smelled.” Link smiled and made his move. Rhea’s eyes scanned the board.
“You’re not exactly a bed of roses yourself,” she retorted.
“Well, you could have asked me to join you—save some water.” Link sat back and looked at her. Finn cleared his throat. “Or was it too crowded in there already?”
“Don’t be a dick.”
Rhea giggled and made a calculated move, taking three of Link’s pieces at once.
"So, what did you find out, bookie?” she asked with the sting of a woman rejected and sat in the farthest seat from him, legs folded, fingers combing through her wet hair. Finn watched her disinterested grooming over the top of his glasses and looked away, again his thoughts distracted by the memory of her water-warmed skin.
“Saturn Rising,” he began.
Rhea looked up from the board and her post victory smile fell.
“You know about Saturn Rising?” she squeaked.
“What’s Saturn Rising?” Link asked and looked between Finn and Rhea.
“I know what it’s not,” Laria said and withdrew her moonblade to clean beneath her fingernails. Finn blushed and redirected.
“Saturn Rising is a celestial event that happens once in a thirty-year cycle. Mostly it’s insignificant and passes without anyone knowing. While the event usually has epicenters, the locations are usually out of reach for our traveling tech. But this cycle, this Saturn Rising, is happening within the next few days. Here, inside of The Rings.”
“Uh, OK? But what is Saturn Rising? Like a solar flare? A reversal of poles?” Link asked.
Finn shook his head, “It’s hard to explain. Imagine a shift…a sort of—gathering of space and time.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It provides possible doorways, to other worlds. Sometimes even different times.”
“Ugh, could we talk about this after food?” Laria said and threw back her head. Finn scowled at her, knowing she was downplaying his intellect out of retribution, so he ignored her.
“Here,” Finn said and stood up. He took the table cloth and gathered it. “Imagine this is space—”
“Can we imagine some food to put on it?” Laria countered.
Finn went on without acknowledging her hangry fit.
“Now, space and time sort of—undulate.” The word was sensual as his long fingers played with the silken material in soft waves. Laria watched them with entirely different thoughts in her head than space portals. “During a Saturn Rising, the fabric folds over itself. It’s believed that in these moments, people are closest to their true selves, and that we solidify into who we are in these moments of fold—”
“Ferking astrology,” Laria scoffed.
“When Saturn was first being colonized, Prophetics postulated that during one of these folds, A Conduit could be used to open a sort of slit in the fabric, and a person or ship could hop across the fold into the other place in the universe. Rhea, your father was the leading Prophetic in the study of Saturn Rising. I’ve read that he may have even been present the last one.”
Rhea blushed and her dark eyes sank into Finn’s.
“Hop into another place in the universe?” Laria chided. “Sure. I’ll just pop on over a billion light years to the neighbors for a spot of tea—”
With an ease that should have been impossible, Finn took the knife from her hand, pickpocket speed.
He spun it in his long fingers with an agility she hadn’t know he’d possessed. Holding up the folded fabric, he gently perforated the two layers.
“One side is our world,” he looked around the fabric to where the knife protruded. “The other side is a different one.”
All eyes stared at him. The room fell eerily silent.
“So, Rhea knows how to find the…well the knife in this case? The Conduit?” Link said.
“If D’Sol’s theory could be believed, yes,” Finn said and laid the table cloth back down, the holes now spread wide from one another. “In the same way he found the last one. I think it’s in her genetic code to be drawn to the anomalies surrounding a fold.”
“Why in Kronos’ name would anyone want to jump across time to some place they knew nothing about?” Laria asked.
Finn held up his finger and an excited glow lit his eyes. “Ah! Beautiful question!” Laria blushed inadvertently. “D’Sol believed that on this particular rising, the cloth would fold back to Earth. He writes here that an anomaly occurred last time, thirty years ago, wherein something came through the fold and that the universe would naturally seek to fix the balance by repeating the fold on the next Saturn Rising.”
“Uh—” Laria’s disbelief hung on the air. “Earth was destroyed thousands of years ago.”
“Well, technically it still exists, it was just—uninhabitable. Or it was when humans left it. D’Sol argued that it could be a much-recovered planet and due to the difference in Saturn’s years versus the Earth’s, it would have had time to recover.”
“Wait, are you saying the Earth could be livable, again?” Link abandoned the game.
“What would that matter if it was? We can’t get possibly get back there. It took people thousands of years just to get to Saturn, to set up operations…to start over. You’d never have enough fuel to make it there, let alone the life span to survive the trip.” Laria injected harsh reality into the hopeful glow.
“Unless the trip only took a few minutes,” Finn whispered, leveling his eyes on her “Across a fold of space.”
Today is my mom, (Christine Wickstrom’s) birthday, so before I get all poetic on your asses, let us take a moment:
Here’s to another trip around the sun with the woman who loved, fed, raised, and let me survive my teenage-hood. You’re a spiritual whirlwind, a passionate crusader, the raucous laughter I hear in my own voice, and the sturdy rock on which I was built. Also, sorry for using the word ‘asses’ up there…and again just now. Have a lovely day, take naps, eat good food, enjoy the sunshine and the new dawn of spring. I love you to the moon and back again.
And now, this:
They used to say,
over coffee cups
behind her turned back
that she was an old soul
Even at six
when she struggled to sit pious
in pews too hard for anything
Or dreamed beside lazy rivers
in tall, cool grass
feet barefoot and setting roots
in worship of the bigger gods
An old soul, she thought, was
used, misused, tarnished
worn thin like soles
on the bottom of shoes
She thought her soul
looked like beaten leather
and scarred with use
Everyone else got a new one
right out of the box
the day they were born
the 'new soul' smell still clinging
smooth, shiny, glowing
with kinetic possibility
But what choice did she have?
Old was far better than none.
Six turned to sixteen
and all the years blended
in hues of decisions
and roads taken
the ones where she felt,
memories walked beside her
and footsteps recalled
and every where felt like home
in far off rooms of her old soul.
Sixteen to thirty
and on to forty
and on, and on
and her dented soul carried
tears and laughter
just as well as any other
Because new souls, she learned,
were breakable and brittle
they faltered in storms and
dented at the slightest strike
In the same span of years
the glittering glow of the new
was thin like a grocery store bag,
plastic urban jellyfish, aimless
and at the whim of every breeze that blew
But old souls
are stalwart souls
They grounded roots
feet in dirt and
sturdy branches rising.
Fingers tasting every flavor of life
without being swayed to break.
Old souls have lived it all before
and are wise to the ways
of errant breezes and
the fickle affections of years.
Old souls, she learned, came back
loved and experienced once more,
into only those vessels
strong enough to carry them.
I’m not going to lie, I’m a lazy bastard some days. And I’ve got plenty on my plate to make me feel justified when I rehash an old blog, especially if it still fits with what I’d like to talk about.
This, being April and the start of the Writing Conference Season (I’m not sure if that should be a capitalized title, but it seems like an event so…I’m going with it) I thought it would useful to budding writers out there to go over some conference basics as well as some advice that has really helped me get the most out of them. This also being a totally new era, I’ve added some modifications to reflect our new Zoom/Teams lifestyles (not NEARLY as cool as a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle).
So, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writer’s conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.
How do you choose which one to attend?
• Firstly, most conferences, at least since last year, have had to switch to some type of online format or perhaps online-in person hybrid to make accommodations for safety during the pandemic. So, the good news is, you may not have to shell out so much for travel expenses as they can be taken from the comfort of your home. Bad news is that you’ll still be at home and all the challenges that can go along with it. I’ll touch more on that later on.
• If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference, along with which classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
• Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America used to host in fun and far-off lands like…San Diego and…New York City…*le sigh* remember travel? Now things have changed. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s Wordsmith Institute’s Romance Writing Conference online and it was simply amazing. (they are offering the conference again this year and here is the linkhttps://www.wordsmith.institute/writing-events—totally worthwhile. In the fall they host a Sci-Fi conference that is equally engaging and informative). Genre specific conferences are awesome if you’re looking to polish skills or start out in a new genre that you don’t normally write in. Don’t be afraid to flirt a bit (outside of your genre, that is *wink)
• If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
How do I get the most out of my conference?
• Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes (or, via online conferences, log in with only dress clothes on your upper half). They start the year before, during writing when you self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
• Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter or trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. Why do athletes cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better in all aspects of your work. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
• Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
How do I not get overwhelmed?
• For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I’m a classic victim of; “I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes!” Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into a self-made mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own.
Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round. This is especially true for online conferences! Take the computer to different rooms (if they’re still quiet) or outside if available, take walks in between sessions, take eye and body breaks (look far off for a spell, or ‘rest’ your eyes away from the screen, get up and stretch as often as available). Its’ almost like interval training—the space between, the recovery is what sets you up for the next round, so take it.
• If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing beforehand. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
• If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
• Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (or conversely at home for online conferences—having my own espresso machine) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you’ll have things to do the next day and Underoos will stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail.
To conclude, I’d like to share one of the best lessons I’ve learned from conferences.
For every conference I attend, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.
The whole that is me as a writer.
And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience.
Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school brown-nosing self.
Something happened one year, while at the meet and greet “networking” event. I found myself long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field. I was mentally exhausted, untethered and I felt like I was on emotionally shaky ground. I realized after a long day of learning and being ‘on’ that I didn’t want to be there.
I didn’t understand my limits or that honoring them was at the core to being successful at a conference (and let’s face it, in life)
I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.
But…the more stories I heard, the more classes I took, the more advice I tried to apply—the less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.
Until everything was just noise and words.
Then I learned a secret.
You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it.
Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scene. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans. And it comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.
During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write.
If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes.
Did I miss a little of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. Conferences have given my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls.
In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.
I had to make it OK for myself to listen to that want, in order to get the most out of my time at conferences. These events open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson.
Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds.
So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired.
Quick announcement in today’s blog: If you are in the Fort Collins or Northern Colorado area, I will be doing a live reading of my short story “Rinse, Reincarnate, Repeat” in partnership with CopperMuse Distillery (https://www.coppermuse.com/) on March 28th from 4-6pm. Along with a fun little story about God, Love, Stardust, Split-Aparts and Dogs, this incredible distillery will be featuring a special cocktail to go along with the story.
And now, this:
Part three in the continuing saga. Today’s excerpt is a bit longer… Because, I couldn’t not introduce Finn O’Toole. If you need help catching up, here are the first two installments.
“Have you any idea what you’ve just done?” T’Elliot’s voice snapped onto the com before Laria had a chance to change Walt’s course.
“Look, Telly, if you didn’t want those men to get shot—”
“And stabbed,” Link added, unhelpfully.
“—they shouldn’t have shot first. This ain’t no sandbox on Iapetus, you had a bounty—” Laria's throat constricted. “We took her.”
“What you did is put this whole solar system in jeopardy, maybe the whole universe, you worthless Mutt!”
“Ease up, Telly. I gotta long memory and I’m likely to see you again before those kinds of words get forgotten.”
“She isn’t just some map! That girl is incredibly important!”
“So says the payment,” Link spoke now.
“And did you ever stop to wonder who was paying for her?” T’Elliot’s voice got quieter. “Or why so much was offered?”
“I dunno,” Laria scowled at Link. “Did we think about that?”
“The men, I can forgive you for. They were idiots and shoddy pirates at best, but if you bring her back, I’ll forgive the debt you owe.”
“I don’t owe you a kronosdamn thing,” Laria said and swung the ship across two vectors to reach the adjacent ring, slightly off course for Titan. She needed to think.
“What are you doing?” Link covered the com with his hand and looked at her.
“What are we doing? Who’s paying for this girl?” she whispered back.
“I am not a man to beg,” T’Elliot interrupted their conversation, more calmly than before. Laria could picture him putting his bald forehead to steepled hands and sighing into the holy space of what usually amounted to a hypocritical prayer. “But, please, Eularia Longfellow, bring her back. We have to keep her safe.”
“Safe from who exactly?” Laria said. Silence filled the space between the orbiting ships. “Who is she, Telly?”
“She’s the map.”
“Yeah, well that means about gorseshit to me right now. I don’t need—”
“To the Conduit.”
“Could somebody please tell me what the ferk that means?” Laria yelled. Link shrugged. Rhea smiled at her from her bound position in the back chair. A knowing smile. A map at peace with herself and her silence. T’Elliot broke the confusion first.
“The Conduit is the tool that opens the portal—”
Static. Silence. A slight tremor in The Ring. Laria looked behind them to see a ripple in space from where they’d just flown. A blossom of orange in the dark sky. A ship, snuffed out, leaving only the burning ember of wreckage.
“Holy Ferk,” Link said, staring with wide eyes.
“Kronos,” Laria breathed and immediately hit the cloaking button, bathing her ship, Walt, in the soft blue glow that hid them from sight and enveloped them in a forcefield. She redirected course immediately, causing the ship to swerve down and below the ring-way.
“What are you doing?” Link yelled, not buckled and tumbling around the cabin until she righted the ship in its new course. “You put us in cloak and we’ll never have enough fuel to make it to Titan!”
“We’re not going to Titan,” Laria said.
“What? But the paycheck!”
“Somebody wants her, or wants to kill her, bad enough that they blew up a whole ship in the broad light of space. And I’m not getting blown up today, Link, so sit down and shut up.” She programmed in new coordinates, factoring in the tremendous cost of energy and fuel to the cloaking apparatus which wasn’t exactly sanction. They had a two-hour range, and only a few ports that might be safe. Once word got out that T’Elliot’s ship had been destroyed and they were the last ones in contact with it, those few ports dwindled to one, and Laria’s cheeks warmed at the last option.
“Mimas,” she whispered.
“Mimas? Why Mimas?” Link said buckling up and settling in to help run the diagnostics that would keep their cloak from burning up too much fuel.
“The Library is on Mimas,” she said simply.
“Finn O’Toole is on Mimas.”
She scowled at Link.
“Does she ever smile?” Rhea sang from behind them.
“If she ever did, it was probably on Mimas,” Link chuckled.
“Mimas is overlooked and out of the way. It’s an orbital sanctuary, has a re-fueling station, and The Library will have information on what in the hades a Conduit is, and why it’s worth so much money and death.”
“And Mimas has Finn O’Toole.”
“Shut up, Link.”
* * * *
“My old friend!” Link shouted and raised his arms, as if it were his home that Finn O’Toole had just walked into, and not the other way around. “It’s been too many turns!”
“Has it?” Finn said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s not enough.” He searched the sky to assess any danger his loud-mouthed, former school mate might have brought with him.
When Link came to town, it was usually followed or preceded by some sort of mayhem, and usually in the form of blaster fire. Of course, it also meant that Eularia would be with him. And that’s where he directed his attention next; to the ship’s loading bay, opened wide like a great yawning mouth. A small, dark-haired girl walked a pace behind Link, absorbing the sky and surroundings like someone who’d been too long in space. Or someone who’s mind was not completely in this orbit. Her small feet took heavy steps as though they were her first. Interesting as this girl’s clandestine and tranquil manner was, he was really hoping for a scowl, from someone more uniquely beautiful and rough.
Finn had been kept away, at Eularia’s blaster length, for their first few years. It wasn’t a surprise; she trusted so few. But he’d discovered her soft fondness for the written word and through books, had been able to bring an unguarded smile to her face on more than one occasion. Since then, he’d judged his worth on how often he could make her smile. It meant bringing out some of his rarest books, or reading to her while she pretended to be asleep in his dilapidated hammock by the high window of The Library.
He still recalled the last time they’d visited him for Sanctuary. He sat below her, reading. And as his persuasive words drifted up, followed by his gaze to light on her resplendent form, she draped one long arm over the side, a beautiful wide smile on her lips and his heart fell. Her fingers gently tugged on his curls and she pulled him in for a warm kiss before retreating back into the woven cocoon.
“I love when you read to me,” she whispered.
The destruction of his heart was complete in that moment. Finn stood no chance at ever living through her. Only five or so times they’d met in the last few cycles, and he looked forward to each and every one. Did she ever feel this way? The heart pounding anticipation of just being in the same room?
Link roused him with a knowing shove.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be here. She’s powering the decelerators down. We had to ride the last six orbits in cloak and Walt’s a bit hot.”
“Why in hades were you in cloak?” Romantic thoughts of Laria drained from Finn’s mind as quickly as they’d spread. He examined the sky again.
“Oh, am I supposed to ignore that sad puppy face you were just making when you thought I came alone?”
“I don’t—I don’t know what you’re—who’s this?” Finn asked, sidestepping Link and offering his hand to the young girl who held up her metal-clamped wrists in response. “Why’s she bound?”
“She is our bounty—least that’s what I thought she was this morning, but Longfellow is having inner turmoil over the matter. So naturally, she’s come looking for comfort.” Link said with a wry grin and wiggled his dark eyebrows in Finn’s perplexed direction.
“Bounty? But she’s just a child—and what do you mean by comfort—”
“My name is Rhea D’Sol,” Rhea cut in and beamed up at Finn. She had to look quite a way up. He stood taller than most, lanky and in possession of a wild mop of curly hair, glasses and a regimented bow tie, Finn wasn’t the kind of man women sought comfort in. Least of all women like Eularia Longfellow
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he tried to shake her hand again and turned back to Link. “Really? Are the binds necessary? We are not barbarians here. You’ve stepped off of your ship and onto my grounds. And I don’t hold with detaining prisoners in The Library. You know the rules,” Finn said, quiet but stern, and Link merely shrugged his shoulders.
“Hey, bookie, take it up with the Captain. I’m sure she’d love to have you boss her around.”
Finn swallowed hard and looked to where Eularia had finished camouflaging the ship from overhead view and now strode across the flight deck, Walt’s hull door steaming closed behind her. The evening Mimas winds blew her hair across her heart-shaped face and the light of the setting star lit her skin in a warm golden glow.
“Pull your thoughts outta your groin and back into your head, bookie, and try breathing with your mouth closed,” Link whispered up to his ear.
“She’s like an angel,” Rhea whispered in reverence.
“She’s no angel,” Link answered though similarly heart struck at the sight of his captain and her determined gait.
“What the ferk are you all standin’ around for?” she scowled. Finn smiled goofily at her before composing himself with a serious throat clearing.
“Captain Longfellow, I don’t think I should have to remind you that The Library es expiabat sanctuarium ab nocere.”
“’S that how we’re starting? Latin? After the kronosdamn day I’ve had?” she snapped.
“Apologies, but the rule still stands,” he said. The quiet velvet of his voice offered more reprimand than she knew how to handle. She cleared her throat, shifted a bag over her shoulder, and looked at her scuffed boots.
“I—know, I’m sorry. You’re right. She’s not really a prisoner. She’s just…a huge pain in my ass.” Laria cut away the weak bonds with her moonglass knife and Rhea rubbed at the swollen skin.
“How do you do that?” Link whispered and nudged Finn in the ribs, hard. “She’s never apologized to me!”
“You don’t deserve any apologies!” Laria yelled back at Link. “Sanctuary from Harm has saved our asses more than once, and I think there should be some honor amongst thieves. Even poor excuses for them like you! Fuel the ship, laser brain.” She brushed past the group and stepped through the carved stone door before the blush on her cheeks could incriminate her further.
“I like the Captain when she blushes. She’s very pretty.” Rhea skipped along behind her.
“In a cut-your-digit-off-for-touching-her-thigh kinda way.” Link muttered.
“There’s nothing wrong with having boundaries.” Finn smiled; secretly happy he’d never suffered that fate.
“I’ve worked with her for eight cycles and not once has she ever taken my advice, Finn.”
“And we thank the stars for that, or you’d both be dead by now,” Finn said, matter-of-factly and followed Rhea inside.
I feel like this is a post I’ve probably written before, in one manner or another. But the truth is, that if you’re a writer, actively seeking to publish your work and/or build up your resume (let’s call it a ‘platform’), you’re going to have to deal, at some point in your process, with rejection. Hell, humans in general have to deal with it in all facets of our lives, and as we mature and gain experience we learn (or don’t learn) how to cope with it and move on.
*I should add a disclaimer: I’ve seen it happen, on the rare occasion that someone’s first draft of their first novel gets picked up by a publisher, right away. I’m happy for those few among us, but they are very rare outliers. The exceptions. The kid that blew the curve in class. And since they’re probably not in ‘need’ of writing advice–they can go on with their charmed lives. This post is for the rest of us*
A rejection letter for our artistic work (the meat of our souls if you will) is often harder to take than getting passed over for a promotion or shot down by that guy at the club (or wherever a person tries to pick up someone–I’ve been out of that game for many moons). Writing is, in many cases, a work of heart. And it takes guts and faith, and an ounce of reckless stupidity to throw it out into the world for other people to read (judge, pick apart, mock, etc.) So when we put our (he)art on the line and it’s returned with a swift and almost cutting “thanks but no thanks” it can often feel like we’re getting a red pen mark right through our soul. They didn’t like it. They don’t like me.
So here’s where I tell you the few things I’ve learned. Not just about in dealing with rejection but also how to submit in ways that will expand your confidence and the chances that your work will be seen and appreciated.
I could pound out a bunch of statistics on how many times major publishers rejected some of our favorite and prolific authors. I could tell you that some of those authors when into their thirties and forties (even fifties) without ever finding success in the industry, and I could give you a sunshine-up-your bottom pep talk about not giving in.
But I’m here to help. And I don’t believe in false praise, false hope, or anything false when it comes to finding the system that works for you. What I will tell you is this:
1.) Rejection is important to our growth and the quality of our work.
And there’s a blade thin line artists walk. Where the sting and wound of rejection can, in fact, topple us over and we may never rise again. It happens. All the time. So, when you think about being a writer—I want you to think hard about this one truth—
Your work will be rejected. Your words and ideas, your stories and the depths of your heart on page, will be thrown back at your feet and declared unwanted. But here’s the secret. It does not matter if they believe in your work. It doesn’t matter if they find it worthy. All that matters, is that you believe.
Your work is not you. So your novel was rejected and, if you were lucky (yes—lucky I said) they gave you some scathing or tepid advice about why. I’m willing to bet the editors did not say “You’re shoes are dumb and your breath smells like coffee farts. Oh, and your momma was a Clydesdale.” And if they did—that editor was having a really shitty day and you should send them some flowers—back on point. You are not your work. Rejection of your work is not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Everything in life that we want to get better at, takes practice, and the best practice includes mistakes and their inherent lessons. Your work is not perfect, but it is changeable. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Rejection of your work means you are out there, in the business building a better story and standing behind it. Don’t take it personally.
If they do offer you any advice, cutting or kind, PLEASE respond with a heartfelt thank you for their time in helping you become better. Assure them that you’ll consider their input and try again as guidelines allow.
And your mother doesn’t look like a Clydesdale.
2.) Submitting your work gets easier.
I remember the first few poems, short stories, and novels that I submitted, and it felt like sending my babies out into a wild cavern full of hungry wolves. It was heart wrenching to wait and equally devastating to hear that they’d been torn apart and spit out. But, with the aforementioned advice on rejection I’ve learned that a rejection notice isn’t a ticket to give up and stop trying. It’s one opinion, it’s one grade, it’s one lesson. And there are too many more to try to waste the time fretting over the one.
So, keep trying–submit like a goddamn machine. Schedule it, prioritize it, research possible avenues for your work. Put aside time each week to find the right places for your voice. Record where you’ve submitted, when, the cost, the call-back date, and the work (this is especially important if no simultaneous submissions are part of the rules *see #3 below*). The more you submit, the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to catch something. Don’t keep submitting to the same publisher/agent/journal/paper, with the same story/novel/poem/essay and expect different results.
3.) Read the Damn Guidelines and Follow Them As Though Your Life Depended On It.
Seriously, my pen pals, I cannot stress it enough. It irks the hell out of me to have a beautifully written story in a waste pile because you didn’t take the time to read the requirements, word count, genre, or editor’s rules. Sometimes one of the biggest filters any job/class/test/editor uses is the simple test of if the candidate can follow directions. So don’t be the douche that thinks you’re above jumping all the hoops. Show them respect by following the details. Then wow them with your work.
4.) Take the small wins
I don’t care if your local church newsletter published your tuna casserole recipe (how Minnesotan of you, Sarah!) or you had a haiku featured on a blog, or had a guest editorial in a nationally ran newspaper. Take it! Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back. These are the small steps that help you understand that your perseverance leads to good things and eventually, bigger things. Don’t go resting on your church cookbook laurels though. Celebrate and get back to work.
5.) Think about your endgame and plan accordingly
There are a lot of readers in the world (Hell, I’m one! I know you’re one!) which means there are eyes and minds out there for every story. Whatever your endgame is for your writing, decide early. Are you doing this to build a platform for future projects? Are you submitting because you love that particular journal? Is it for the love of your story? Or is it for profit or prestige. TO BE CLEAR: NEITHER OF THOSE ARE WRONG. But the path to each will be greatly different. So steer your submitting towards what you want to be when you grow up, whether that’s a world-wide best selling author, a respected indie poet, or someone who’s work affects even just one other person.
Well–That’s all I’ve got this month for advice on submitting. Do it prolifically. Don’t take rejection personally. Stay true to your voice and purpose as a writer and author.
Gentle reminder that I’m still accepting submissions for “Wilderness of Soul: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2021”. Check out the website for details and contact me with any questions.
And now… this.
Write me a poem about love
that doesn’t end
in the breaking of hearts
the rending of souls
once sewn together in trust.
Write me a sonnet
where all affection
a balanced scale
love gained and returned.
Write me an ending
not wrought with cages
and dungeons of guilt
and sharp glass
and bloodlines on wrists.
Write me a poem about love,
that doesn’t end.
Where every morning
breaks in brilliant hues of
I cannot,I will not
replies the poet
For I only write in truths.