Pens–not guns.

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My 2013 WordPress report card summary begins like this:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

In 2013, there were 9 new posts . . .

And this is where I owe you a bit of an apology and an explanation….only 9 new posts last year. That is awful.

2013 grew increasingly tougher as it progressed, and frankly, I’m glad it’s gone.

As a freelancer I kept up with the paying work, because if I didn’t, it would go away. It’s hard enough to get that work these days. No matter what’s going on, a writer must work to keep it.

But my writing—that personal, deep stuff I love to dive into—and this blog–were sorely sidetracked due to life opening up on my family, and my soul has missed it.

In a nutshell, I found myself scared breathless by a life-changing medical diagnosis for my husband, along with an aggressive cancer diagnosis for our favorite fur-face kitty, while monitoring with great concern the ineptness of the building contractors for our youngest daughter and her family’s unfinished house—which left them with no place to live. All of this on top of literally finding myself standing in septic-tank-contaminated, hot-soapy-sudsy water one lovely warm September morning last fall; water that destroyed the oak flooring on our first floor level.

Want to hear more? Both my husband and our lab grandpuppy were attacked and bitten by unruly neighbor dogs. Neither neighbor offered to pay for the emergency room visits.

All. In. One. Month’s time.

We all grew afraid to even stick our feet out of bed in the morning.

I’m happy to report I’ve got my chutzpah back, in spite of it all. And I. Am. Eager.

A friend and I are going to take on a 6-week personal journaling class called JOURNAL YOUR LIFE with British writer Susannah Conway .

Angels come in all shapes and sizes, and my friend Cynthia who mentioned this class to me, is one of them. The graphic with this post today is what I’ve picked out for this session. My sister had the Cross pen inscribed with my nom de plume and gave it to me a couple Christmases ago.

It’s become obvious lately just how much anger—and heartache—I’ve pushed down deep so no one else would have to see it. Including me. Several unhappy incidents lately forced me to see how astute I was at accomplishing that, and how not smart that is.

There is no more room at the Inn called Suppressed Emotion.

It feels good to write that to you today, and this upcoming journal project has me on fire.

I cannot say this enough: If you are hurting, don’t pick up a gun. Don’t pick up a bottle. Don’t pick up a syringe.

Pick up a pen.

Find yourself.

Write whatever you want to. Scream, rant, cry, swear, berate, accuse . . . cry some more. And if you see a glimmer of Accept trying to peek around the page at you . . . maybe—just maybe—let it sit down. Give it a spot all its own where it can remain with you.

I believe, eventually, we come to feel better, or in the very least, stronger.

Author note:

The new oak floors are installed and gorgeous. Lexi had to lose her front leg, but her blood work indicates she is healthy and the cancer most likely gone. The kids are moved into their new house, but their contractors remain inept baboons as far as we are concerned. Neither of the dog bites turned serious.

And most importantly, we are all learning how to make every single moment in the now count, because once a person’s memory starts fading, all we can do is face it.

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My Champs Elysées Warrior: For Writing. For Life.

Nope. This is not a plug for Paris perfumer Guerlain and their Champs Elysées Eau De Toilette.

It is a plug for resilience.

Recently I captured a graphic (and I do mean graphic) captioned photo from Facebook. The sentiment grabbed me. The language used to convey the message isn’t a member of my vocabulary, but like I said—the message hit home.

It was the scene of a grizzly bear kill. The grizzly is lunging over the dead body of a wolf it obviously had already taken down, and it’s not pretty. But the wolf’s mate or companion is poised dangerously close to this severe looking grizzly, with its own ears laid back, fangs bared and clearly not going to take this aggressive bear lightly.

The caption?

“A true warrior feels fear, but says f**k it.”

As I said—not my favorite word, but the sentiment of the photo juxtaposed to the quote stuck with me.

Allow me to share another example of such resilience.

The perfume mentioned at the top of this post was my mother’s favorite–and last. She enjoyed wearing it when she dressed up and the scent was quite lovely about her.

When I cleared out her room at the care center after her death I brought her empty bottle home to be sure I’d never forget.

My mother had breast cancer and as the disease progressed and my sister and I could no longer care for her at home, we had to move her where there would be plenty of people around to help lift her and be there at all hours for her. The time does come when a person cannot even turn themselves over in bed.

But before that day arrived, I’d stopped in one morning to visit her in her room. She was standing in front of the mirror studying herself. She had no hair left because of the chemo treatments, and she wore the ubiquitous turban on her bald head. She was finishing up at the sink and I watched as she picked up this lovely bottle of perfume and sprayed some about her neck and shoulders—took another long gander at herself in the mirror and then turned to greet me.

My mother, the fighter, defined herself in that moment and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. And not one word was uttered or necessary.

Here was a woman who knew she was losing the battle to cancer very fast and yet she still cared enough to spritz a little perfume on herself.

Now—fiction writers know all about “show, don’t tell.” You tell me—is this not a most fully loaded scene of show, don’t tell?

It’s not unlike the abovementioned wolf poised, ready to fight, in spite of knowing the bear had already killed its mate—do you agree?

I read another writer’s comment on Facebook this week. He was most frustrated because he’s sent off queries for this article, and queries for that story, and no one is responding to him. And then he was most skeptical about these ads that come out telling writers “they, too, can make $50K a year copyediting,” and yadayadayada . . . well, it just does get to us sometimes. I felt for him.

I wanted to tell him that he needs to make up his mind about what kind of warrior he is in all of this writing game stuff.

Do you know what kind of warrior you are?

Have you figured out how to be resilient enough to spray on a little perfume when you need it, or open those teeth and prepare to bite into whatever it is you need to in order to survive?

Just keep putting you and your work out into the world, no matter what.

Thanks so much, Mom.

No Time For Writing Grinches.

Holiday planning and writing. There’s room for it all.

“If I were you, I’d just screw the writing and focus on those grandkids,” a long-time acquaintance said to me, handing back the pictures of my two adorable grandkids that I was showing her at a pre-holiday party we were attending. 

I literally let it go in one ear and out the other, but in my gut I knew I had just been given my next blog subject. 

This woman had also just asked about and listened to the progress on my novel while I shared with her how my recent submission package was sitting on an editor’s desk, and I hadn’t heard a thing back yet, and this is how it goes in publishing today . . . it’s not quick and easy . . . and yadayadayada. 

Even in light of such a rash statement as the one she made to me, I remain grateful when people at parties ask me about the writing progress. Doesn’t bother me a bit, and I use these opportunities to share with them the realities of the industry, and most of them are usually stunned into silence to hear of the difficulty in navigating the world of words. 

This acquaintance is not a mean-spirited person, and I do not believe she was trying to sabotage my writing work life/efforts and dreams. She was, however, approaching it from her perspective—not mine. She clearly doesn’t understand how it works, and that’s okay.

Evidently, it is supposed to be something that you toy with until something else, something better–like grandchildren—come along. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d make such a statement to, say—a lawyer or an interior designer—or a doctor. 

You will never read a written word from this woman because she doesn’t get it. 

It isn’t either/or—it is work it in—amongst it all—squeeze it in . . .  in the car on the way to lunch out with your husband, draft in the airport on a yellow lined tablet, outline something sitting on a plane, stay up extra late at night to be sure you meet the deadline, jot down those thoughts that come to you while having a cup of tea at the coffee shop. Sit down to the laptop while that pan of cookies bake. 

When I was still working in the cubicle-world, I was drafting on a poem—a poem that came to me while I drove home on a lovely, smooth new roadway close to our house. Ribbon-smooth, it was, and the sky that September evening was like sparkling liquid gold, and the words were just begging to go down on paper. I kept the draft of that poem on the island next to our cook top—and every now and then while I was browning hamburger or making soup, I’d glance down and read through the poem . . . nah, that’s not quite right—move that word down here—get rid of that word—maybe move that whole phrase up a ways . . . 

You get the idea? 

I did that for a year. I eventually finished that short poem and entered it in two contests over time. It placed in both contests. And I still managed to finish cooking a whole lot of suppers throughout that year, and get into work in the mornings while editing a poem a little at a time. 

And now I have these two exceptional grandkids, and I don’t miss an opportunity to be with them and hold them—and I won’t. 

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I love to cook for people—especially my family. We don’t run out to the closest buffet. That is fine if you like that. I don’t happen to want to do it that way. And the kids and the grandkids will be here. 

Today I did some cooking/prep for the big day coming up. I ran out to shop a bit for some items, and now I’m seated with the laptop writing a blog post—and then I’ll go back to doing more cooking/prep once I get this posted out to the cyber-space. And probably tonight I’ll return to the laptop and draft—something. 

I think my acquaintance is missing out on something more, but that’s for her to sort out—or not. There is no either/or. 

As for myself, I want the writing, the grandchildren, the holidays, the lunches out with my hubby and friends, the freelance work—and eventually a place in the sun for the novel. 

When I hold a Christmas tea here in our home in a few weeks, there will be magazines sitting out on the coffee table; magazines that make it into thousands of homes each month–and they will contain stories written by me. 

“Screw the writing?” 

I think not, my dear old acquaintance.

How about you? 

How will you combat your “screw-the writing” Grinches?

My Andy Warhol Approach to . . . editing.

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I enjoy documentaries about famous dead people. 

In a PBS-aired documentary about Andy Warhol, the narrator shared a story about Warhol coaching one of his protégés on the subject of self-judging one’s work. 

The advice he gave the younger artist was profound, and it surprised me that such an unconventional individual as Warhol was—could–or would offer something so “fatherly” sounding. 

This isn’t verbatim, but in essence, Warhol told his protégé: “Just do the work, and do a lot of it. It won’t be up to you to decide if your work is any good. That is for somebody else to decide.” 

It’s a fairly liberating notion. 

While art and beauty are in the eye of the beholder and visual artists have a different method of attack they work from as compared to what a writer does, I believe  we writers need to take Warhol’s advice one step further. 

I mean, if an artist doesn’t quite get the hue of the western sky right, the average person may dismiss it to style or artist’s choice, but let a reader pick up a book or a story and find uneven sentences, misspelled words, missing punctuation, and we can have our work tossed in the trash and labeled amateurish by prospective editors, literary agents and publishers. 

For sure, we writers should do a lot of writing. A lot. It’s good practice. And, yes, we should not get caught up in that “is-my-stuff-good-enough?” self-destruct mechanism, but we have another level to add to our work that the visual artists do not. 

We have three serious editing phases to go through before our works sprout wings and leave home. 

Do you know the three basic components of a solid edit? 

The mechanical edit. 

  • Is your capitalization consistent throughout your piece?
  • How about your hyphenation?
  • Are your verbs and subjects in agreement?
  • Are your beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses clear and appropriate?
  • Do you get carried away with ellipsis (like I do)?
  • Are your numbers represented as figures or written out? (Do you know the difference?)
  • How’s your paragraph length looking in the overall document? Do you have a two-page paragraph where the reader’s eye never gets a break?
  • How about your spelling? Spell-check does not sitteth at the right hand of God the Father. I can’t imagine it ever will from what I’ve observed.

The substantive edit.

This type of edit is helpful in the rewriting and reorganization process of your project.

  • Can you stand far enough away from your work to recognize a better, maybe more effective or alternative way to present your subject or story?
  • Have you stayed in the voice/tone of the overall piece, or did you switch gears halfway through the novel—at the risk of losing your reader?
  • Will you catch your mixed metaphors?
  • Will you recognize misplaced modifiers?
  • How about remote antecedents? (You know what these are?)

The copyediting edit.

  • Is the overall formatting presentation and appearance of your writing project neat and easy on the eyes?
  • Have you been consistent in the spacing between sentences and narrative pauses? Transitional paragraphs?
  • Have you checked for proper and clean pagination throughout?
  • Have you allowed widows and orphans to exist in your document?

Qualified and merciless editing won’t kill us, and our project will be visually and grammatically beautiful. 

Now, if they don’t like us—well, meh. Then you’ll need to remember Mr. Warhol’s words.

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We simply have to try on a lot of words to see what we like. – R’becca G.

The Pandora’s Box called Publishing

It’s all about perspective.

 

 

 

 

Last week Chila Woychik, author, editor and owner of indie press, Port Yonder Press (website down temporarily this week) shared some of her eye-opening research on the facts of trying to get a book published these days, in a post, PUBLISHING FACTS & FANCY – Small Press Facts 

I shared it broadly, with her permission. Many of my friends and families (who are not writers) nearly fainted at the size of the battle, even for the small presses, which have held hope for budding authors, in light of the near impossibility of gaining the attention of the BIG Six publishing house machine (her post will educate you on who they are). 

Some of my favorites from Ms Woychik’s research, included: 

  • On an average, it takes 475 hour to write a fiction title and 725 hours to write a nonfiction title. 
  • On average, 61 hours are spent in the editing process. (Oh, gee, I’ll bet my personal editing average is trying for the Gold!) 
  • An average of 10-15 hours are spent designing a book cover . . . which leads in to my favorite among her research… 
  • According to a survey taken of 300 booksellers from both independent bookstores and chain stores . . . seventy-five percent of them identified the look and design of the book cover as the most important component . . . they agreed the jacket is prime real estate for promoting a book.

And my favorite #2: Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

It’s a pretty grim collection of facts—as you read them the first time, but I encourage you to read through her information several times—and then make your peace with it. 

Unless you keep an open mind, the facts presented could seem like the contents of Pandora’s Box—full of demons and wicked things just waiting to be unleashed onto the prospective author. 

I would like to propose that you and I look at this in a different manner: Pandora let out the bad, but she also realized what she needed to do to keep that one important last thing from escaping. She shut the lid.  

Do you know what that last thing was at the bottom of her box? 

It was hope. 

We absolutely must read and educate ourselves often and widely on the publishing world demons—and the realities of the struggle they present, but we must also make a pact with ourselves to tuck it all away in the business file side of our brain—for now—to keep our hope from escaping. 

Pandora wasn’t malicious; just curious, so things escaped, but she knew the value of the hope at the bottom of her beautiful box. 

Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul sits on my reference shelf here in the office, and every now and then I have to turn to the story on pg. 332 titled “Consider This,” written by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Bud Gardner. They site twenty different examples of people who didn’t give up. A few examples: 

  • Richard Hooker worked for seven years on his humorous war novel, M*A*S*H. Twenty-one publishers rejected it. You know the rest of this story, don’t you. 
  • Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer-winning The Good Earth was rejected fourteen times. 
  • Jack London received over 600 rejection slips before he sold his first story. 
  • Roots author Alex Haley received a rejection letter once a week for four years when he first started out.  

“Hope and milk sour by standing” – Austin O’Malley

We know what we have to do.

The Writing Competition Stairway: sweaty hands be hanged.

There’s only one way to find out. (Photo courtesy of Joanna Nohr)

The cursor blinked expectantly, waiting for me to take the final step. 

Just hit Submit—that’s all you need to do. 

But once I hit Submit my story is out there in the world where anybody can read it. 

That’s the whole point of entering contests, isn’t it? To get your work out there? 

But what if they don’t like what I wrote? 

What if they don’t? 

What if they say something really mean about my writing? 

What if they do? 

Look. You’ve worked on this short story for quite a while. You know you’ve been thinking about doing this for some time, so just do it. 

Yeah, I know— at first I thought entering this fiction contest was a good idea, but now I’m not so sure. The rules said that all the entries will be judged by the contest’s preliminary team and the top 20 stories picked will be posted on their web site where readers have the opportunity to read each of the finalists’ entries, post comments or critiques and place their vote. 

I know all of this—remember? You’re just stalling. Hit that Submit button. 

Don’t rush me. My heart’s pounding and my hands are sweaty and I’m afraid to let people read my fiction. 

I know you are. Just hit Submit and go to bed. It’s 11:30—the competition closes at midnight. You’re running out of time— 

It could take up to 10 days before they email the top 20 finalists. 

You’ve got the online entry form filled in, you’ve got the story attached—now all you gotta’ do is hit Submit. 

What made me think I was ready for this? 

I’m telling you: you’re ready. Do it. 

[Click . . . . AutoMessage: Your submission has been received! We’ll be in touch soon!] 

Two weeks later: 

Ms Groff: Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that your story has been chosen as one of our finalists from a field of 400 entries. You should feel very proud. Shortly you will be see your story posted on our web site where you can read and critique the stories of the rest of the finalists. Good luck! 

The next morning:  

“Congratulations! Someone has read and commented on your story. See what they had to say!” 

See? I told you. She wasn’t very nice, was she? 

She is only one person. Egads, but you’re over sensitive! 

She offered nothing constructive. All she said was, “This story needs polishing—it’s not finished. Others out here are better.” 

Grow another layer of skin, will you! Look, you have more comments coming in—go read them. 

‘I enjoyed your story . . . liked the surprise ending . . .’

‘This story isn’t quite as well written as some of the other finalists out here, but I enjoyed the read . . .’

‘This story is at least as good as any that I’ve read in Ploughshares recently and it deserves to be a finalist. . .’ 

Ploughshares, huh? Do you suppose they really meant that? Ploughshares prints some pretty good stuff. 

Uh-huh. I know.

What do you suppose Ms Drive-By Machete thinks of these comments? 

What makes you think you need to care? I see she hasn’t posted comments for any of the other finalists. 

She hasn’t, has she? 

Listen up, wee one . . . you simply must learn how to handle this stuff and keep working. Aren’t you glad you moved passed the sweaty hands and heart palpitations? Your work turned up in the top 5% of your first writing competition. 

Some people would call that a God-wink. 

[stupid smile morphs into a giddy grin] 

Try harder to remember that from now on–will you?

 

Author’s Note: I’m glad to report this took place a long time ago and “wee one” has grown several useful layers of skin since that time. 

Writing tips all over the web and in books and magazines advise us to dialogue with our characters and ask questions when we are feeling stumped or scared in trying to figure out what to do next. 

You don’t have to be a writer to reap some level of benefit from the practice of self-dialogue. Who knows what good thing awaits you at the top of the rugged stairway? 

Writing against pressure: Larry the Cable Guy Meets Nike

One of my favorite funny men!
RULE #1: You never submit late to an editor. 

RULE #2: You aspire to never submit crap writing to an editor. 

CONCLUSION: Trying to follow Rule #1 and Rule #2 around the holiday season can make you nuts. 

Unless you try a new approach. 

New tricks—especially the ones you teach (let me rephrase that)—the ones you allow yourself to try—are delicious treats that the Great Unseen Entity rains down on you when you’re up against a deadline–and sweating it. 

Such was the case for me in December; that crazy Christmas Season that I live for and love–and do not like to compromise. 

It was December 20th . . . and my assignment was due in. 

The interviews, collected jumble of input, ideas and expertise of my resources lay before me—in 7 single-spaced transcribed pages, along with another 6 pages of printed out research findings. 

There was the traditional toffee to make for certain family members—and fudge, if I had time. Unwrapped gifts resided in organized stacks on the dining room table; additional shopping waited. Family would arrive in three days, Christmas groceries weren’t stocked in the cupboards yet, and a box of gifts required buttoning up and shipment for out-of-state relatives. 

And yet–I had an article due. 

Usually when I finish an interview—and almost always during transcription—one main idea pops into my head—and I know where I’m going to start the story, but for some reason it wasn’t working like that this time.(I’m glad to report—this is not customary and usual. Whew!) 

The candy-making and gift-wrapping specters hovering at the door of my office going: Haven’t you got that thing written yet? We need you downstairs. Now!–weren’t exactly helping matters. 

I wanted to write the article and go “play Christmas”. 

As I reread the transcribed pages it occurred to me to simply start shaping some of those loaded paragraphs into final form; as if they were going to all be used in the article. They weren’t, of course, but what the hey. Just do it I told myself, so you can get ‘er done

I picked the first paragraph in the notes that contained interesting information that I might be able to work into the story and cleaned it up, crossed all the t’s, dotted the I’s, used proper punctuation—ready to go. And then I left it.  

I went further into the notes and found another one. Did the same thing—and left it. 

After some time I had a healthy collection of clean–if not well-synchronized (yet) paragraphs. I copied them all, in the order I’d groomed them, and put them into a new document just for kicks and giggles. 

A story skeleton appeared. Thank you Divine Intervention. 

The cleanup work helped me get over my “what am I going to do?!” panic mode, place the fingers on the keyboard–and do some thing

As I read through those paragraphs, pieces started to fall in place—you really don’t need to say all that, but you might add that line from that other online source . . . . and so it went. 

I finished the article, but I have to tell you– I am big on RULE #2. I needed a couple extra days to feel sure about what I had, so I wrote the editor and told him I didn’t want to submit crap to him. (He’s tough. He can handle that word.) 

He wrote back—said he didn’t like to receive crap—and yes, take a little more time. 

I liked what I turned in. The story printed, and there weren’t a lot of changes to my original submission. 

Take your time, but when your focus sways and things aren’t falling into place, put your hands on the keyboard—or the pen and paper—and write one clean sentence—or in my case, one cleaned-up paragraph. 

Allow yourself to pretend it’s okay. 

It’ll take you out of your brain-driven, hand-wringing mode and give you a jumpstart.  

NOTE:  The fudge and toffee were finished, as was the wrapping and last-minute shopping. I cooked my way through a ton of groceries, enjoyed the visiting family to the max. Christmas came and went very nicely. Like it always does.