Good morning readers and writers. I’ve collaborated with the amazing folks at Masticadores to bring you a short series on what we affectionately call NaNoWriMo here in the States. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide, month-long challenge to help writers of all ages, genres, and abilities finish the first draft of novel (50,000 words) in one month (30 days).
Looking at those numbers, especially as a beginning writer, feels daunting, I know. But, having participated for 8 years, including 6 novels published (and soon to be published) I can tell you; it is possible.
Now listen, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve got a household, and pets, a garden, and other writerly obligations to fulfill, so I understand the idea of committing to this kind of word count can feel impossible. In this intro, I’ll break down the basics, and by the end I hope you’ll look at this challenge as something you can’t wait to start.
Breaking it down:
If you want to get all math-y, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1667 words a day and you don’t have to write them consecutively. 330 in the morning, 560 on a lunch break, 780 in the evening, and you’re there. OR, 5000 over the weekend and smatterings throughout the week as you have time. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IS TO KEEP WRITING. One of the purposes of this challenge is to make you realize how much available time you actually do have to write, when you make it a priority.
This isn’t about the final product, i.e. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME EDITING! One of the major killers of first drafts and time is self-editing. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, don’t worry if it’s down-right shit, just put the words on paper. Editing will come later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, write first…save the editing for December.
Use the resources at the website: National Novel Writing Month. You can set up your own dashboard, upload ideas, picture boards, short excerpts, possible titles and even inspirational playlists for each project. On the website you’ll find links to local events, helpful tips and blogs, ways to connect with other writers (buddies!), all kinds of support and help, and badges to keep you inspired along the way. ALSO: you can log your words per day and check on your progress (honestly one of the best tools for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited to blow the curve, you know what I mean?)
If you don’t make the 50,000 words, there isn’t some Squid-Games pit that will open up and swallow you whole, but you will have made progress and learned a bit about your writing habits. If you do succeed in that word-count, you’ll receive free goodies to help in the next steps of editing, cover design, and self-publishing if you choose that route.
If you aren’t a novelist, don’t count this challenge out. At your author page/dashboard, you can select if you want to participate in the traditional challenge (50,000 words in 30 days) OR create a challenge of your own. It can be a collection of short stories or poetry. I’ve had friends and collogues use the challenge to get through final edits of their current novels or for drafting a complex series. The point is that you use the 30 days to build a habit of putting your writing first.
Lastly, as this blog is coming out in October, you will have plenty of time to prepare, especially if you’re a plotter/mapper. The weeks leading up to November 1st are a great time to outline your novel, create character boards, and get excited about telling your story.
For every week in November, I’ll be running one short blog (Wednesday or Saturday?) on this website to offer you inspiration for the week ahead. If you like the challenge, please support the cause by donating or picking up some sweet swag on their website. NaNoWriMo offers support and programs free for young writers to grow their skills, and for those disadvantaged or formally overlooked writers whose voices deserve to be heard.
I hope you’ll sign up. I hope you’ll find the time to invest in your book and yourself. I’m always open to any questions or thoughts on the matter, so hit me up at my website www.thebeautifulstuf.blog, through the contact page.
So, last week, I hit a rough patch, and I appreciate all of the kind comments and voices of concern that were raised for my well being and in defense of the human. I wanted to take a moment, before I launch into today’s poetry (brought to you by the amazing NCW Writing Retreat I was able to attend) to reach out and say a few words.
I know all humans aren’t assholes. I also know it’s our job (each human) to try and do our best not to be assholes. To not raise assholes. To forgive those who are being assholes. I know these things. But just like holding a weight constantly can fatigue a muscle and cause injury, holding on to this dark while trying to be light can be draining, so it behooves us all to drop the weight once in a while and call out the asshole-ness when we see it. After all, our job as humans is to try to make it a better world and that sometimes means calling on others to do better by one another.
And now: Poetry:
When we break apart
to find the core of iron-will within
or the soft underbelly of a soul
too long denied air
Then we will understand the
driving nature of our force
Lies not in what covers us
but what centers us
When we give in to the churning
burn of a life outside our control
the masticating masses of teeth bared
in anger and fear
Then we will understand that
we only control the product
of our own mind
And we are the owners of
sanctuaries or hells
within our own creation
When we let go
of the idea that its our job
to dictate the perfections of others
to drive their engines
to direct the film of their lives
and focus instead on
what beauty we can leave behind
Then we will find the only
fragile, and faltering peace
a human can own.
Yep. That’s where I’m going today. I know this blog is primarily about writing, but it’s also a blog about living. And in the course of living this past week I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that humans, by and large, are assholes. You can argue the point. I admit there are some good ones out there…but as our society ‘progresses’ I swear I’m witnessing an overturn of kindness and compassion into a collective settling of “me-first” assholeness.
From people honking behind you if you pause too long at an intersection, to those that sprain your wrist in karate class because you threatened their fragile ego. To those judgmental mothers who raise judgmental daughters who body shame other girls, in the same nasty way it has always been since long before I was born, because we’re so caught up in tearing each other down that we don’t realize how much powerful we’d be if we built each other up.
To those spewing venom on the internet, raging in hateful and hurtful ways without stopping to listen to their own disgusting thought-vomit long enough to ask if it’s truthful. To the creators of those social media worlds that know the beast they’ve created is addictive and harmful, a veritable cesspool of useless and divisive vitriol that has been proven to be suicide-inducing, yet charge ahead anyway because the pay is sweet and the power sweeter.
To the world that’s declining around us, fires and drought, floods and monsoons, dead coral reefs and decimated animal populations, the earth itself dying a little more every day, racing headlong into environmental destruction.
To the countries that slaughter and enslave women. To our own that treats women as if they were only good for being incubators and objects of desire (really only a step up from the aforementioned countries).
To the drug epidemic, our addiction to technology, poverty, wars we shouldn’t fight, battles we can’t win, politicians (career assholes) who care more about being reelected than they do about what they accomplish towards the common good…
Man, with this slew of examples, what subset of assholery does one even pick to write about? Humans have so many veins of douchery to tap into, I just don’t think I can choose one. All of this has settled like heavy sediment inside my skull and I have little room to breathe in any creativity. I have little room to breathe at all. It’s no wonder people purposefully walk away from it all, permanently or otherwise.
What’s a blogger to do when she’s in the throes of final edits, soon-to-be-publications, and running out of guest posts? She throws you another section of fluff from her weird-ass time-traveling/faerie-mischief/Austen-esque novel. You’re–welcome?
Lily was playing a game with herself; a game wherein every time she opened her eyes, she made rationalized odds as to whether or not she’d wake up in her own bed, or at the very least, a hospital, and that the good Dr. Blackwell would retreat back into her subconsciousness’ fantasyland.
This time, she thought, it’s gotta be at least sixty-percent. Her eyes, would flutter open to a blurry vision of a room. She knew that the head trauma must have been real as it was the only consistent thing she could feel when she awoke. When the fog cleared and she was again staring at the red velvet curtains of the ostentatious bed, or the worried and rounded face of one of the older women who had found her, she would close her eyes, and try again.
Occasionally she would wake to the deep blue eyes of the doctor (if that was in fact what he was) and she would stare into them, convinced reality couldn’t create such a stunning man. He would smile, sometimes. Looked concerned others. Brush her hair from her face, murmur that she was all right, and not to fret. Lily closed her eyes, fall back asleep, and tumbled into dreams. Dreams plagued with the vast swirling dark, with the sound of a voice somewhere in the shadows calling her. Sometimes it sounded like her mother, sometimes it sounded like her own voice echoing back. Sometimes it whispered the word Lily, and Angel, and Darling.
The most shocking moment came when she woke to the sight of the concerned face of her brother. Though still blurry, she thought for sure that this was the moment that she’d finally woken up in her own time.
“Will, thank God,” she whispered and moved to sit up. But as her vision sharpened, his face was changed. As though it was her brother with strange differences. A freckle on his cheek that hadn’t been there before. A slightly narrower nose, not like their father’s. Dark hair, like hers.
“Lillian my dear. Thank goodness, I’ve been terribly worried! You haven’t called me by such a pet name in years since we were but babes at our mother’s skirts,” the man said and solidified in Lillian’s mind that this was not her brother. Will wouldn’t worry about her. He rarely worried about anything. If he did find some ounce of concern for her well-being, he certainly would not admit to it. Her Will would have been shaking his head and laughing at how stupid she’d been. Calling her names. Name.
“Of course you’re Will,” she said, befuddled and grasping at her bandaged head. Suddenly, warm fingers were there, capturing her wrist and reading her pulse, She looked to see the fair doctor, keeping his eyes demurely turned away and studying her stats with a detached and professional manner. He cleared his throat.
“It is common for people who have sustained severe trauma to the head to revert back to childlike tendencies,” he said calmly to Will who nodded in understanding.
“I am not reverting! That’s Will! My brother—at least, at least I think it is—” she laid down once more.
“Fitzwilliam,” Will reminded her and for a stark moment Lillian was jostled awake by the name.
“Fitzwilliam,” she said softly. Her brain sorted out the card in a deck of a thousand and remembered the diaries and family journals her mother had carried in acid free packaging all the way from America. The diaries of Fitzwilliam Darcy Byrne and his wife. The truncated one from his sister Lillian (for whom she was named) that only accounted up until her untimely death from a drowning accident.
They’d spend most of a month traveling across the country in search of their ancestral story. And Fitzwilliam held a key role in all of it. It was his diaries that gave the most detailed accounts of their family history. How their mother had passed away, and they had moved to live with their aunt and uncle, Colonel Mayfield at Westbury Manor. How his beloved sister had drowned shortly after being married to—the names and stories blurred in her tired head and she wavered.
Lillian groaned and put a hand to her forehead. The possibility that seemed lost in all the fog, made her feel sick to her stomach. It simply couldn’t be true.
“Lillian, dear, what is it, how can we help?” Fitzwilliam said desperately and took her cold hand in his. Lillian peered out with one eye at him. Nope, not her brother. But if the drawings and paintings she’d seen could be believed, he was Lillian Louisa Byrne’s. This couldn’t be real; what kind of sick head game had the injury brought upon her?
“May I—“? She began but lost her breath.
“Yes, anything, Miss Byrne,” The doctor said from her other side.
“May I please—” she stopped to word it correctly. “Trouble you for a looking glass so that I may see the extent of the damage?”
“Miss Byrne, it is quite a disturbing wound and I would not wish to distress you further—” he argued.
“I am quite well enough to handle the sight,” she said stubbornly and glared at him. “Or are you afraid your stitching is subpar?” The grating insult seemed to take Dr. Blackwell back, and Fitzwilliam laughed beside her.
“Lily! Such terrible manners! I apologize Dr. Blackwell, she is indeed not herself.”
The doctor smiled at her and shook his head. As if her rudeness was a ruse he saw through and thought it quite charming that she should put up such a brave front in the face of such trauma.
“It is quite all right. I was not referring to my impeccable work, I was referring to the bruising and alteration of her rather plain appearance. I’ll allow you to decide if that is for the better or worse,” he retorted. Lillian gasped.
“You—” she began and the doctor chuckled. Fitzwilliam at first looked horrified but then laughed himself.
“He is indeed a match to your wit and most dark mood, sister.”
“My lady,” the doctor smiled and handed her a silver handled mirror from the vanity table beside the bed. It seemed, in all of her time, suffering through her mother’s obsession of the history and cultural norms of the era, that she would not think a true gentleman, especially a man of such esteem as a doctor to be so brash or rude. But perhaps the Austen’s and Bronte’s of the time were not so unlike the romantic idiots of the modern world, who tended to sugar coat the affections and behaviors of the opposite sex. She snatched the mirror away from him with a glare.
She wasn’t really interested in what the stitches looked like or the bruising. What she really wanted to see was if the image she held a reflection of was in fact hers, or was her great, great, great times seven grand aunt’s. The glass was milky and dusted, and for a moment Lillian feared that her vision had been impacted by the fall. She had gotten far too used to the modern world’s minor conveniences. Like mirrors. Cameras with their fancy filters and effects. The face that stared back at her seemed to share in her shock, the raised eyebrows and puckered mouth mimicking what she knew her muscles were doing. But it was not entirely her face.
The similarities were impeccable actually, but she was sure her eyes were not so deep a blue and she was missing a scar on her chin from a fall off a bike at the age of twelve. But the biggest difference by far was that, at the time of her tumble in 2019, her hair had been a short pixie cut and tinged with blue dye. Now it fell in long and loose raven curls all the way down to past her shoulders and mid back. She touched it in fascination, so soft and thick. Hair that hadn’t ever been dyed or blown out, or all the hundreds of other tortuous things the modern woman did to herself in the name of fashionable trends.
“My hair,” she said softly. Matthew watched her with some curiosity. She didn’t appear to even look at the wound but had spent the last few moments studying her own face as if it were the first time she’d ever done so.
“Do not fear, my darling, I’m sure the ladies can help you right it again when you are feeling much better. You mustn’t think it’s unbecoming, you are, after all convalescing.” Fitzwilliam said to her astonishment, thinking her upset for the state of it, wild and free.
“I actually prefer it—” Dr. Blackwell said before silencing the thought.
“Down and wild from days in bed?” Lily asked with a scowl. The words stopped his movement and Matthew stared at her for an uncomfortable moment in a way that suggested he was imagining days in bed with her. Matthew cleared his throat. Fitzwilliam cleared his throat.
“Yes, well, we can see to it that someone comes this afternoon to help you, if you wish,” her brother offered. “Perhaps Miss Darlingwood might be available. She has been much concerned with your absence and has asked after your health repeatedly.”
Lillian closed her eyes and the mirror fell to the bed beside her, still stuck in her hand. More people she supposedly knew, more people that knew her as someone she was not. She sighed and felt tears sting the corners of her eyes. What in the hell had happened? Could this be a dream? It did not feel like one.
“I—” she sniffed and opened her eyes. “It does not matter. But what I would greatly like, is to get up and—walk.”
“It is not recommended Miss Byrne,” Dr. Blackwell said immediately and looked into her glassy eyes. “If you should fall again—”
“I will be careful,” she said. He gave her a disbelieving stare. “I assure you Dr. Blackwell, I am quite well enough to stand on my own.”
“Oh? Will you be as careful as when you ‘decide’ to take the stairs eight at a time?”
Fitzwilliam burst out in a beautiful, room-lighting laugh and in it, Lillian found the comfort of her own brother’s laughter. She scowled at him in the same fashion she would her Will.
“It wasn’t the preferred method but it got me there with some haste,” she countered and jutted her chin at the doctor in defiance. He looked down at her pretty pink pout and his eyes softened, his smile grew. Both men chuckled.
“If it were up to judgement on your spirit alone, I would think you are healed all but in the severity of the cut,” his warm fingers went up to delicately touch the healing wound. She shied away until the contact of them against her skin seemed to draw the whole room into focus once more and she leaned in.
“You may walk,” he said and pulled back. “In short increments and only when accompanied by someone else.”
“Oh, well—” she scoffed and sat back against her pillows, still pouting. “Thank you for your professional permission.” Both men raised their eyebrows at her tone. Matthew leaned in to Fitzwilliam.
“Is she always this obstinate?” he whispered though not so quietly that she wouldn’t be assured to hear him.
“No, usually moreso. She must be tired,” Fitzwilliam nodded looking directly at Lillian.
“Oh you!” she took a small pillow and threw it at her brother, connecting it squarely in his buttoned up chest. Lillian studied the coat briefly, and the doctor’s clothes in turn. If this was a joke, if it was not real, then her imagination had made every detail impeccable. Right down to the brocade pattern of her bed sheets and the golden buttons on Fitzwilliam’s coat. Her new brother laughed.
“I shall send someone to help you bathe and dress,” he said softly and came closer to gently press a kiss to her forehead. Dr. Blackwell watched and Lillian swore he had the look of jealousy on his face, as though he wished he could leave her with such warmth.
“I can do it myse—”
“Please, Miss Byrne,” the Doctor interjected. “I know you are quite ready to be healed and understand your frustrations, but waves of dizziness can catch one unaware after such a wound. Be you a strapping and grown man or a—” he stopped, unsure if the next words were sanctioned or proper. “Delicate young woman.”
“I am not delicate—”
“So you keep insisting. Please—” he sighed with frustration and gathered his own navy blue coat from the chair beside the bed. Lillian wondered how long he’d been there, with her, beside her bed, no doubt sleeping in the chair in order to be close to her in the hours of her need. She had seen him in quite a few of the moments she’d opened her eyes. “I ask that you take the opportunity to allow others to help you.”
Lillian Byrne wasn’t good at letting people help her. She didn’t want to rely on other people. When her father had abandoned them at the tender age of eight, she’d learned that women couldn’t count on anyone but themselves to make sure they survived and thrived in life. And here she was, stuck in an era where women had little choice but to be taken care of by men. She, herself, was even supposedly engaged to be married. And where was her unwanted fiancé?
In the present moment she didn’t care. She just wanted to leave the confines of the bed and get her body moving. Maybe then her brain could sort out what had transpired from the moment she’d fallen and why she didn’t seem to be able to wake from this dream.
“Will you return to walk with me?” she asked suddenly, and then felt a hot flash light her cheeks. She knew from the research and books she’d been inundated with by her mother, that it was not proper for her, an unmarried or even promised young lady to ask an unmarried man. But the fact remained that Matthew Blackwell was the one person she was most familiar with. He’d been with her since she’d found herself in this strange and impossible set of circumstances. He was the most known to her. Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows and looked at the young doctor in anticipation of his answer at such a strange and forward question.
“I—I must go and see to business I’ve been kept from these last three days.” “Three days—“? Lillian began to ask, had it been that long? Her mother would be so worried!
“My father is expecting me as soon as my business here is concluded as I have much to catch up on in his clinic and with our…personal affairs. I’m sure that your brother, Miss Darlingwood, or Colonel Mayfield would be more than happy to accompany you.” He said softly and donned his coat.
“You’ve been here for three days?” she reiterated the question as if reminding him.
“Quite so! He’s a credit to his profession,” Fitzwilliam jumped back into the conversation. “The good doctor even slept in the chair by your bedside in the event you should need anything at any time of day or night.”
Lillian blushed and looked up at the doctor who avoided her liquid blue eyes with deliberate effort while he adjusted his collar.
It’s that time of year again, when the cold crisp air settles around and the light grows softer. The mornings are get-ups and lunch packing and full backpacks. The wind rustles drying leaves and the echo of everything Pumpkin Spice descends. Fall. Probably my favorite season (minus the Pumpkin Spiced everything). Fall signals the slowing down of the bustling summer, a cooling off (we hope), and a getting ready for the winter ahead. It also reminds us of new opportunities to learn, to gain intellectual ground, and to prepare for the prime writing months coming up.
There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last spring, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.
The Long Haul:
MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your Thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.
Online Writing Courses:
A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of softwaretestinghelp.com:
Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
Reedsy Learning Courses
Udemy Creative Writing Courses
edX Creative Writing Courses
FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Northern Colorado Writers at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m funneling my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.
Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.
Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.
The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.
Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!
It’s been a month-long week. Here’s some poetry that boils it down. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever and whatever you’re spending your energy on–I hope it is worthy of your time and love. Take a breath…or seven-hundred.
The Gift of Silence
What the silence gave me
was the horror
of having to sit with my own
car-piled up in my head
like an apocalypse of trauma
each vying for attention
on the quiet stage
I can’t whack-a-mole them down
without ten more sprouting up
the what about and
the have you forgotten when...
I'm the resistant owner
of a vice-gripped mind
constantly expanding with
What the silence gave me
was one full breath,
an ocean wave in and out
before the panic of being alone
in the frayed mess of my life
took that air
in short, shallow gasps
and suffocated my dopamine.
What the silence gave me
was the truth
that I’ve packed it all in
for too long
But I cannot ‘give’.
I was not built to throw away
I was not taught to let go.
I cannot sit in gifted silence
because I cannot stand the sound
of my own shit show.
Raging its insecurities
like expandable insulation
in the cracks of my gray matter.
I cannot accept this gift
because my thoughts
are far too loud.
Good morning, readers. I was puzzling over what to post about this week and in the middle of editing one series, formatting and finishing a first rough draft of the poetry anthology, and trying to adjust to new school schedules, I thought–what would I like to read? Sorry to say, nothing on editing. I live and breathe that stuff currently. Poetry was last week and again next…I’d like to read something light. Something fun and fantastical. So here we have it. A little book I started (and nearly completed) last November that’s beyond rough but one of my favorite new multi-genre experiments. Think Quantum Leap meets Jane Austen. It is, tentatively titled “Westbury Falls” and, if I have my way will be part of a loosely connected series someday. But only if I get my editing done (You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your veg).
So–without further ado, enjoy some “pudding” in the middle of your veg filled life.
Lillian Byrne fell face first down the stairs as was typical of her style. She never did anything by halves, be it her dramatic monologues explaining over the dinner table why her history paper had been only partially completed, or the hundred or so accidents she managed to survive in the span of a week.
So, when the toe of her converse caught the frayed carpet on the precipice, of what must have been the fiftieth English manor her mother had dragged her to in the course of a week, she almost expected the epic tumble down all four flights of the narrow and steep stairs. Her brother, no doubt, was laughing his ass off from the top, soon to call down that she was stupid and uncoordinated. Her mother would run to fuss for a few moments before she became engrossed in some placard explaining some little-known fact about Charlotte Bronte’s knickers or Jane Austen’s secret seaside romance.
It wasn’t really her mother’s fault. Being a wall street trade floor manager left very little romance in her mother’s post-marriage life. That’s why they were here now after all. That’s why she’d been on the “Footsteps Through the Past Literary Tour” of Westbury Manor. Why she was sharing a tiny hodgepodge room, filled with antiques and moth ball-ridden closets with her idiotic, ivy-league-bound brother who only feigned interest to gain their mother’s favor.
And this. This feeling of weightless abandon, was probably just a universal decree that she should fall, knees knocking like a leggy foal, tumbling and tangled, down the wooden steps, a mess of human limbs. She hadn’t been concerned until she felt a banister crack her temple rudely, then two balusters after that following suit, smashing against her ribs and back. Her unfocused gaze made out the lace-lined light from the window above her, before the light swelled to gray and an enormous pressure took over her skull. The world closed itself to her like a porthole getting smaller and smaller until a pinprick of light twinkled out and she was gone.
“Miss Byrne, Oh Heavens! Miss Byrne!”
Lillian heard through the suffocating clouds of fluff between her ears. Some attendant must have found her, but her head hurt far too much to try opening her eyes just yet.
“Mom,” she croaked.
“Oh, poor dear… she’s calling for her nursemaid.”
“No…nurses. I’m fine,” Lillian mumbled.
“Poor child, she’s had a right awful fall,” came a muffled cockney reply in the deep accent that Lil was sure was being over done on account of her being a tourist.
“It’s cool, I’m used to falling,” she groaned and tried to rise to her knees but the dress caught beneath her and pulled her back down.
Lillian’s head swam with pain and she put her forehead to the cold wooden floor. Maybe she’d accidentally taken a curtain with her or some tapestry had come down and off the wall in her tumble. It certainly felt hot and uncomfortable wrapped around her. She tried kicking it off before steady hands stilled her and held her down.
“Easy now, easy Miss. Your head has a terrible bleed, you need to stay still. We’ve just now sent young Master Byrne to fetch the doctor.”
“Master Byrne?” Lil scoffed, hating but not surprised that her brother had somehow convinced the staff to call him by a title. The floor pressed against her forehead even harder and she felt blood slowly pooling in a warm ring around her cheek and ear.
Mom was going to be overly worried now and probably wouldn’t let her climb more towers any time soon, she thought, before slipping into the darkness.
Lillian was dreaming and woke in the groggy, underhaze of not knowing exactly where she was. She must have been in a hospital, but heard not the raucous machines.
Was she thinking in proper Elizabethan English? She must have cracked her skull harder than she’d thought to be dreaming in Austen-ese. Lillian chuckled and cool fingers came to touch her forehead gently. She closed her eyes and sat back into the pillows.
“Ah, there breathes the angel, in laugher she does beguile me further.” The deep voice was soothing as velvet in the dark room. She must be dreaming. No one ever called her an angel, and certainly no man. What could such a suitor look like? Surely divine in both nature and stature. Lil’s brow drew in. She tried to sort out the confusion of cotton and haze in her mind
Surely poetic musings were a definite sign of a brain bleed.
Fingers delicately touched her wounded temple, eliciting and incredible flash of pain that should have been dulled by the medication they would have given her. Her violet eyes sprung open and she expected them to be assaulted by the fluorescent lights of a hospital ICU, but only darkness surrounded her. Cool darkness, a canopied bed, and the outline of a golden-haired man coming into focus. He had a strong dimpled chin and beautifully full lips. His eyes searched hers; blue as a Whitby sea on a clear and bright day.
“Ah, the angel awakens. Such a shade of eyes I’ve never been more contented to fall into.” He whispered and his fingers traced her cheek. Lil’s mouth, dry and empty fumbled, lips moving but no words coming. She wasn’t in a hospital; she was surely dead and this heavenly being was sent to take her to the afterlife.
“You are surely mistaken, good sir, for no more a divine face have I ever gazed upon than that which lies before me now,” her voice was husky with sleep, and slipped into an accent that did not feel unnatural. She’d only been visiting the UK for a few weeks; how could her speech have altered so? Maybe she was dead.
“Miss Byrne,” he whispered and they gazed, in equal parts profound wonderment. His eyes closed and he shook his head as if to right his thoughts. “You must not speak,” he said more seriously with the morose dictate of a professional. As if her being awake had changed his whole demeanor. “You have succumbed to a terrible fainting spell, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I did no such thing! I’m not some wilting flower!” Her sudden and strong argument took him back and he sat straighter from her bedside from the surprise. “I tripped. I’m a bold and fumbling clod at best.”
The smallest of smiles pulled at the corner of his beautiful lips and she was determined that she needed nothing more in life than to kiss him.
“You fell.” He acquiesced a compromise.
“I think I’m still falling,” she whispered back and her eyes fell closed to the idea of his kiss against the subsequent throbbing of her head. When she tried to breath in, he whole rib cage felt tight and limited. She placed a hand to feel a secure bandage over the tender ribs. Surely, they had some kind of pain medication? As she fell back into the pillows, she tried to sort out the moment.
Why hadn’t they taken her to a hospital? Maybe the ambulance was still on its way out to the middle-of-nowhere estate they’d been visiting. This overzealous young actor was probably having a hard time getting out of character. She groaned again and put her fingers up to her head where she found a scratchy bandaged secured around it.
“Please. Miss Byrne, please do not touch it, we’ve just now managed to staunch the bleeding. And, I don’t like to praise my technique, but the stitching is quite delicate in order to save you the horror of a permanent scar.” His hands encircled her wrist, and it seemed small between his fingers. His hands were warm, as they paused, thumb to her pulse. She looked out from her lashes and watched him counting the time on his pocket watch to the beat of her heart. The horror of a permanent scar? As if that’s the worst thing that could happen to a girl? She tried to focus on the young actor more closely.
“Who are you?” she whispered.
“I’m afraid, we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I am Dr. Blackwell—Matthew Edward Blackwell,” he paused to clear his throat, “Junior, of course. My father insists while we practice within the same province that I remind every patient who is the senior, more experienced physician.”
“You’re a—“she paused and looked at the dimple in his youthful chin. “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor?”
The quick twitch of smile threatened again at the corner of his mouth and she moved her hand to touch it, but he held her wrist fast.
“I am eight and twenty. I’m surprised you would think me youthful.” A new expression passed over his face, perturbed and confused.
“I beg your pardon, good sir,” she said as quietly as possible, falling into the ridiculous speech play that he seemed insistent to keep up. It somehow felt more natural for every moment she spent in what was she assumed was wakefulness.
“I’ve fallen and hit my head and am not to be trusted in my opinion or observations. I meant no disrespect of your position. Indeed, I am most grateful that you are here. It is your youthful and divine dimple that confuses my befuddled mind so.”
His thick throat swallowed as he looked back down to her eyes, falling into them in a way that seemed to cross the lines of good bedside manner into something much more akin to other activities in the bedroom. She sighed. He looked torn, his brow drawing together.
“Your compliments are ill placed, Miss Byrne. I certainly do not deserve such praise from such an—accomplished young lady such as yourself. One, who should, by all accounts and in her current state of mental confusion, should be cautious how complimentary she is. Especially given the promissory nature of your engagement to my cousin.”
Lillian sat up, far too quickly, and nearly startled the good doctor from his bedside perch. She took in a sharp breath and put both hands to her head.
“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not engaged to anyone!”
“Miss Byrne, please!” the use of her swear seemed to amuse him more than shock him, but he looked hither and to, all the same to see who else had witnessed her uncommon outburst. They were alone in the room as the maid had been sent to fetch water and clean cloth for her next change of bandage. “Such language from a young woman of your standing is most unbecoming.”
“Look, pal, I think you’ve taken this act far enough–” the world turned and tipped around her.
“Act? Pal?” the doctor’s voice receded as Lilian felt the world go black again.
Good morning. Today’s poetry comes to us from a former and continuing contributor to The Beautiful Stuff’s Poetry Anthology. Ms. Byrne has a knack for gripping the guts with her poetry and, as an almost graduated student at the University of Boulder, she is finding her way with a powerful voice in the world.
I want to wipe away
of your skin
and its heated strokes against mine
and darken the unforgiving universes
of your eyes
that know and
do not know me.
But the treasonous mind
casts wayward glances,
over shoulders turned cold
and the love and ache of wounds
that should be healed over
resound in weakening heart beats.
The disloyal heart
casts out lines and currents that have
battled the boards of my ship
and sunk it deep, now lies
desolate and quiet a tomb
on the ocean floor
waiting, in vain,
for a tug of interest.
My dissonant soul vibrates in time
to the sound of yours
even when the harmonic waves
shake my teeth and
dislodge my brain
and seize my nerve endings
and tell me
to clean you off
close my eyes,
turn my back to
and cut the lines
cover ears and
what once was
Today I’m talking about two pitfalls many writers fall into. First, the desperate search for the holy grail of what’s on fleek (do they say that anymore?) or ‘trending’. And secondly, the pursuit of higher literary fiction as the only respectable way to claim ‘writer’ status.
It’s no secret that trends play a big role in what kinds of books get produced and published. Like some kind of secret surfing spot, the waves that peak are often unpredictable and by the time you get your board out into the fray, the ride has already passed.
In the same manner, when writers take it upon themselves to invest in their education with an MFA program or something similar, they are put into a strange and high-walled box of what constitutes ‘worthwhile’ literary fiction.
When, as writers, we are so desperate for that publishing contract, agent, representation, royalty check—or whatever your goal may be—we often forgo our ‘pet projects’ to work on something that will sell or is more ‘meaningful’ aka digestible by a higher caliber of reader.
These are pitfalls and I’m going to tell you why.
No one can predict trends. No one. In an excellent class, taught by Todd Mitchell, he talked about a controlled experiment wherein three groups were kept isolated (online) and given the same songs to listen to, vote on, dissect, and judge. In every group, a different song was chosen to be ‘best’. In every group, when one song started to get more votes, strange herd-like mentality propelled it further. Bottom line, people will choose at random and marketing departments of publishing companies don’t represent the whole palette of readers in the world. Writing to trends, especially if it’s not something you love or are invested in, is a waste of your talent and time.
MFA programs are great at exposing you to a range of writers, styles, perspectives and technique. I highly recommend if you have the money and time, to pursue one. But you don’t need a higher degree to become a better writer. Also, having an advanced degree will not guarantee you will be published. The main focus of an MFA program is to get you to finish a novel, a whole project. In the process, it will look down its nose at genre fiction, light-reads, and non-literary fluff. Which may lead you to believe that kind of writing is not worth your time. Even if you enjoy it. Even if most readers prefer a lighter, easier book for at least some (if not all) of their reading time.
So what do we do? Well…I’m going to offer you the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
Write what YOU love.Trends can’t be trusted and you won’t write with heart and fire if the subject doesn’t drive you. The world only needed one Hemingway. What the world is severely lacking is your book. Written your way. I’m not saying you can throw out good writing, grammar, decent editing and the one-two punch of great plot and snappy characters. I’m saying if you love your pet project about ghosts on a mission to save their grandchildren from mutated vampire bats, but you try to write a theory-deep mind fuck about 21st century American Existentialism, because you think it will be more impressive—nothing will go well.
Writing without heart, without passion, will feel empty to readers. AND it will discourage and squelch your flame…and a writer without fire inside will sputter to ash.
So write what you love.
When it’s done, you’ll be excited about it, you will nurture it…it will be easier to promote and share because you believe in it. And it won’t matter who else picks it up or loves it, because it’s already loved. Even if it doesn’t ‘make it’ by industry standards, you win because you have created something that brought you joy. Approaching your project with love puts positivity into the universe and it tends to circle back around. With every project you do with maniacal joy and persistent love, you’ll build the confidence in your work and your purpose as a writer, which is the beauty of creating as a whole. And it leads to miraculous things.
So get out there…without worrying about the current trend or if you’ll hit the sweet spot of American capitalistic consumption. Create what you love to create. That’s success.
Good morning, readers. Today, I’m about to head into my second night of pre-testing for my 2nd Degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. Odds are at the time this post runs, I will be brain deep in trying to prepare, sore from the previous night’s test, and blinking vacantly over my first cup of coffee. I would offer, to my future self and to all eyes reading this, a heart-felt reminder:
You are capable of things you can’t even imagine. You are brilliant and resilient. Don’t ever stop fighting for yourself and the things you want. Self doubt happens to us all, but it’s an insult to your capacity for achievement. So instead of reacting to challenge with doubt, ask yourself this instead: WHAT IF I CAN?
DO NOT SHRINK YOURSELF TO FIT INTO SMALL EXPECTATIONS.
also… take a nap, whenever you get a chance. You’re only as strong as the rest you give yourself
Good skill to all of you out there, in all of your endeavors.
And now, this:
Not Myself of Late
I am long away from the girl I once knew.
The embodiment of all that was light
Annihilated beneath weighted skies.
Mired in confused need,
heart floundering in dark embankments.
I dig it from the muck;
calm it’s fluttering gasps.
brush away the silt
It’s ok... It’s alright nowwe know what we have to do.
I'd let the world upend me.
I let it through the open door
An idea, a hush of doubt
Embedded into my soil.
Tender but steadfast seedling.
Forgotten that its all just shadow
Borne from the reflections of hurt.
A chemical reaction, unchecked.
I was dry underbrush,
And it, just a catalytic match.
I am the fire.
I am all heat and
nothing less than utter devastation.
I don’t need suggestive darkness
to know that I am bright.