I’m here!

Hi Everyone,

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. I’ve fallen into that place where writers are told not to go. You know, that place where you start a blog, keep up with it somewhat and then masked men with Mac computers come take you away to a special place where you’re ordered to write and write and write and are forbidden to do anything else — including dishes, laundry and taking the dog out before the next accident on the carpet.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic.

The truth is, I have fallen into the trap so many writers, and other professionals, fall in to. We start a blog, and then….life happens. Or in my case…a book happens.

Writers love their books, we have to to spend so much time with them, but this book is very special to me. To be honest, I didn’t think I was ready to write it. (It’s definitely one of those training-wheels off types of projects!)

I’m nearly done with the first draft and I’m still not certain I’m ready to write it, but sometimes a thing just has to be written and if that thing lives in your head, you have to be the one to write it.

That said, that’s where I’ve been — writing and researching and living in a mental cave deep within the earth, excavating very very dark things.

I love blogging and reaching out to people and feeling that odd cyber-connect. I also love reaching out to people with pages and pages of black ink on white paper and touching people in, I think, the most intimate way possible — by sharing stories.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I’ve just fallen in a very deep hole with my laptop and my story.

I’m near the end of it now and there’s that excited running-downhill thing going on.

I’ll be excited to share this book with you when it’s ready. Though I have to warn you, it’s dark, and truth be told, it might take me a while to climb out of that dark cave. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll make it all the way out.

So if you see a hand reaching out from the earth and hear a voice calling from the darkness, it might be me.

“I’m here!”

 

 

 

Waiting = Writing

Every writer knows that waiting is a part of the job. Waiting for beta readers to give feedback, waiting for responses on query letters. Waiting for your agent to say it’s time to submit and then waiting to see if any publishers want to offer you a deal.

It’s excruciating, but there is something to ease the pain and to make the minutes, days, weeks, even months go by faster. Work!

Writers write, so write already!

In an earlier post, I compared the publishing process to having a baby. It is a lot like that, the waiting and the wondering what life will be like once it (the book or the baby) arrives.

baby-84626_640

Because we tend to think of our books like offspring, it’s hard to imagine getting pregnant with another baby, before the one you’ve been carrying is born. But writers never carry just one story inside of them at a time.

Right now, I bet there are characters, just waiting to be written, passing the time playing cards in the deep regions of your cerebral cortex. We think waiting is hard for writers, just imagine what it’s like for the characters who get hopeful every time we pick up a pen or sit down at our keyboards. Think how their hearts race when we order that double shot of espresso at Starbucks and take a table in the back corner.

Old vintage typewriter

The thing is, stories want to be told and as writers, it’s our job to tell them. So forget the clock and the calender. Stop checking your email every hour. Eventually, you will hear something, but in the mean time, work. Give life and freedom to your characters. Spring them from your brain and let them live on the page.

For me, there’s nothing better than the moment a story takes hold of you and pushes you, blindfolded, down a steep hill. The exhileration of not knowing what’s going to happen and the certainty that you’ll figure it out is the best!

So yes, waiting is a part of being a writer. But remember that waiting should always equal writing.

 

 

 

The Power of Words

Last week I went to a creative writing open mic night. It was held at a local community college, in a small auditorium with brick walls, a wooden stage, and a bright spotlight to shine down upon all those brave enough to walk up the stairs and stand behind the microphone.

The tension in the intimate setting was literally palpable. I even heard one girl say to another, “Don’t fall off the stage this time.”

Most of the readings were poems, and most dealt with things like homesickness, the daily grind of college life, and about falling in and out of love, and while the poetry may have covered various topics, in reality, each performance was about the same thing – about the power of words to make us stronger.

As I listened to writer after writer speaking in rhythm about love and loss and hopes and dreams, I realized that they were all really saying the same thing, displaying the same thing — the ability to be brave enough to expose themselves to others.

I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the petite girl with short blond hair to get up on the stage after having fallen off it during the last open mic night. I can’t image how difficult it was for the girl who had proclaimed her undying love for a young man with brown eyes, and another girl for an older man, both then telling of how these men (one young and one old) had chosen to love someone else. Corazn Roto

Sure, it’s tough to get up in front of people and say anything — anyone who’s taken public speaking knows that. But for any human being to get up and undress their emotions in front of others, to stand naked in the spotlight, takes incredible courage, and words are what gave them the courage. Their words.

Whether we’re writing prose or poetry, we can never underestimate the power that words have, not only for the reader, but for the writer as well. No armor or bullet proof vest, no weapons of any kind, can give a person the courage or the character that words can.

Who needs X-ray vision or the ability to leap over buildings? Finding the right words to say what we need to say, is the only power we need.

Young blonde woman looking at camera and show biceps.

 

 

 

Sleeping with the Lights On

I’ve recently started a new manuscript. The idea has been swimming around in my brain for a while, but I was somewhat reluctant to pursue it.

Part of it was timing. Part of it was fear.

Concept of security. Silhouette of refugees climb over the barbed wire at the border

All writers know the importance of research — of immersing oneself in the real world to help you create an authentic fictional one. For Deadly Design, I had to swim in the waters of DNA and ghost hearts and all things genetic. While science certainly has it gray areas and ethical dilemmas, this new project requires me to delve into a world which will NOT leave me unscathed.

One of the things I love most about writing is how writers become mini-authorities on the various topics that come into their fictional worlds. It’s fun to learn about science or space or history. But sometimes we get ideas for stories that are of a darker nature.

I have never been to a war-torn country. I have never seen, first hand, the way war destroys everything. But I have this idea, an idea that I truly love and that I believe could become an amazing piece of literature. Do I want to learn what war tastes and smells and feels like? No.

I don’t want to experience it first hand, and yet I want to create it on the page. So how do I do that?

I’ve talked before about writing naked — figuratively speaking — and when it comes to research, it’s the same.

If we are to have vulnerable characters, we have to become vulnerable ourselves. If war changes people, we have to be open to changing ourselves.

I have literally watched hours upon hours of war videos and interviews, and each is like having a flu shot, only instead of protecting me from some awful virus, the exposure makes me feel things — awful things, but necessary things.

When Elizabeth Kostova was researching and writing The Historian, I’m sure she slept with the lights on, and maybe with garlic hanging from her bedroom door. She created a world where vampires seemed as real as anything anyone had ever read about in a history textbook, and I’m sure there were times when she wanted to take a shower in holy water.

Eilean Donan castle in the night, Scotland

We expect our characters to learn and to grow. But before we can create our characters and create their world, we, as writers, have to grow and to grow, we must be vulnerable.

We have to be willing to put ourselves on the front lines. We have to be willing to expose ourselves to things that might make us toss and turn at night. To things that might make us cry and make our souls age.

Before we can make our readers cry or cringe, before we can make their hearts double-over with joy or sorrow, we have to open ourselves to those emotions.

What would life be like without stories? The best stories are often the ones where invisible fingers reach from the pages like spirits and they inhabit us. They make us feel something new and unique. The make the reader more than they were before they started reading.

As authors, as creators of the stories, we must lay ourselves wide to the world, not to sacrifice ourselves for our art, but to become more. To get the stories right, even if it means sleeping with the lights on.

Surviving Limbo

Anyone who writes knows all about waiting. Whether it’s waiting for beta readers to give you their opinions or waiting for a response to a query letter, writers spend a lot of time waiting…and waiting…and waiting.

It’s almost enough to make a person go mad — as in main character in a Poe story kind of mad!

If purgatory is a real place, any writer ending up there will spend eternity logging into their email to no avail.

So how do we keep from chewing our fingernails off and pulling our hair out or chopping up a body and storing it under the floorboards? How do we keep from going mad? Well, it’s not easy, but the answer is obvious — we do what we do when facing any challenge. We write.

My agent and I are currently waiting to hear back from my editor on a project, and I asked my agent if she would mind if I sent her another project. To be honest, I was afraid that since we’d so recently finished rewrites on one novel, she’d want a take a break from my writing. Instead, she was delighted (of course, she hadn’t read it yet so time will tell if she stays delighted). But agents represent books and writers write books so it just stands to reason that working writers make for happier agents.

The point is that we have to keep working. (Even if she doesn’t like the new project, at least I’ll know so I can move on to the next story brewing in my mind).

Now, I’ll admit, waiting has gotten to my psych on occasion (that whole hearing the heart beating like a clock swaddled in cotton comes to mind, but don’t worry; there are no elderly gentlement with cataracts sleeping in my home).

Last week after another day of waiting, I felt a strange kinship to the protagonist in the tragic story of The Little Match Girl, only instead of envisioning a table of food set before a warm fire, I was envisioning my new book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.

All right, I wasn’t  freezing or starving to death, but sometimes mental starvation can be almost as bad.

Waiting is not fun. But it is necessary, and it is inevitable. But there is something wonderful, something magical and almost god-like we can do to not only force the current of time to quicken, but to actually enjoy the minutes as they flow by.

We can create. We can write the next story and then like an expectant mother resting before the contractions start, we can wait. And wait. And wait.

Not My House

I just came home from the inservice meeting for the college where I teach. To be honest, I didn’t come straight home. I had My Chemical Romance blaring on the iPod, and I found myself taking wrong turns to finish one song and then another.

When I turned down my street and looked at the green house sitting on the corner, I found myself thinking that I didn’t want it to be my house. I didn’t want the flowers on the porch to be my flowers. I didn’t want the front door to be the door where my key fit.

Now, don’t be mistaken. I have a lovely home and a lovely family. My husband in the perfect blend of fun and serious. My recently published novel sits on the coffee table and I’m waiting for a response on a new project. I’m getting ready to start another semester teaching classes that love. Life is good. But…

I didn’t want it to be my house.

As a writer, I can’t help but look into lit windows, into dark windows, and wonder who lives inside. What type of lives do they live? Are they struggling? Are there secrets within the walls that twists and burn or is every room bright and filled with the aromas of hearty meals and sun-scented dryer sheets?

I have lived in a house filled with laughter and silly singing. Where every Thursday night was spaghetti night and we’d move the furniture in the living room and play dodge ball.

We’ve laughed in the green house on the corner and occasionally, we’ve cried. We’ve talked about dreams — from my youngest wanting her daddy to be president so we could have our own bowling alley to the eldest wanting to be a news anchor and now wanting to be a college professor.

But in-between those two children are the dreams of the middle child. These are aspirations held hostage, and it’s these dreams that make me want to drive away to a different house. A house where no one knows what gastroparesis is.

I love writing. I love creating stories and getting emails and comments from readers who enjoyed the brief escape from reality that my novel provided. My dream of being published came true, and I would pay with that dream — that ransom — if it would unbind my son’s dreams.

For a mom, there is no greater wish than for her children to be healthy and happy. And when the cabinets start filling with pill bottles and when the squares on the calendar are covered with times for doctor appointments, she finds herself pressing to fulfill her dreams not so much for herself, but because doing so might make trips to far away doctors or pharmacies easier. Because fulfilling her dreams (dreams that were so long fought for) might act as inspiration to keep other, frailer dreams alive.

I didn’t want it to be my house, because I don’t want my child to be sick. But there is no parallel universe (that we know of) where things can be altered to our liking. All we can do is press on. We can pull into the garage, put the key in the door, and we can hope.

And we can write. Thank God, we can write.

A Writer’s Dreams Come True in Pieces

As writers, we have dreams.

When Deadly Design, my young adult thriller, came out on June 2nd of this year, it was a giant dream come true. Seeing my book on the shelf was (and still is) amazing. Having a complete stranger purchase the book and want me to sign it, is also completely amazing, but…

Okay, here’s where I try not to sound like a brat. Here, I’ll go ahead and say it for you.

“How dare you minimize the wonderful experience of being a published author!” “Do you know how much this would mean to many struggling writers?”  “Do you know how grateful you should be to have gotten a book deal, especially one with a major publisher?”

First off, I don’t mean to minimize the experience at all and I DO know what it means to a writer to be validated, to have someone say that their work is worth reading.

It means everything.

But here’s the flip side of that —

As writers (as humans) we have dreams, goals, aspirations. And they usually come in a sort of surreal completeness. We form a picture of what our lives will be like after we achieve our goal, down to what we’ll wear, how late we’ll sleep each morning, maybe even what we’ll have for lunch once this major life achievement is accomplished. But dreams don’t usually come in package deals.

Sometimes they come in pieces.

Before going to my first book signing in Tampa, Florida, my husband asked me why I didn’t seem ‘happier’. Besides being nervous that no one would show up, there was just something missing. My life hadn’t magically changed because I had a book out. There was no quitting my day job. My son’s health problems didn’t magically go away. Our aging dog still had a nasty cough and my house was still a wreck because I’d just finished my grading for spring semester.

Before being published, I can’t tell you how many times I fantasized about getting that magical letter or phone call from the agent who just happened to love the pages I sent. Followed, of course, by him or her saying that they’d already discussed the book with a publisher who is so excited about it. Here comes the nice advance, (few rewrites are needed because, well, this is a fantasy). Book stores can’t keep the book on the shelf and so on and so on and so on.

Of course, this isn’t how it goes, but I don’t think any writer can keep writing without those fantasies. To work so hard, for so long, to give up sleep and sometimes sanity for our craft, we have to dream big or we’ll quit.

But we also need to remember that dreams are often puzzle pieces. Encouragement from a beta reader is a piece. A rejection letter with a positive, personalized comment is a piece. A request for pages is a piece. Signing with an agent is a piece and so on and so on.

Writers are a special breed and we have to be content with each piece we get and we have to have faith that once all the pieces come together, it will make a beautiful picture.

To Read those Reviews, or Not to Read!

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with another writer who just had her third book released. She told me that she never reads reviews of her books, and I had to wonder if this approach is a good one.

Sure, great reviews are awesome! We all need our egos stroked once in a while and a good review on Goodreads or some other website is like that much needed pat on the back. But what about the bad reviews?

Do bad reviews serve any purpose? If the good ones build our self confidence, do the negative ones tear our fragile egos down?

First off, whether or not to read reviews is something each writer must decide on their own, and, if they chose to read them, they need to be able to sort the helpful ones from the ones that aren’t helpful.

What do I mean by helpful?

We write to be read. Many of us write for certain audiences. If that audience feels a certain way about our stories or our character development (or lack there of), we might want to hear what they’re saying — after all, they’re the ones buying our books.

In psychology, they say that recurring dreams usually mean something — that our unconscious self is trying to get us to deal with some issue. Well, in reviews, recurring issues might be something we, as writers, need to deal with.

Of course, it doesn’t feel good to admit that maybe we could do something better, but isn’t that always the point — to get better at our craft. If I’m a singer, and I’m singing off key, I want to know! I want to fix it! But if we place our hands over our ears every time someone starts to say something negative, we’ll never improve.

The most difficult part is knowing which critiques are helpful and which ones aren’t.

I recently read Neil Gaiman’s  book The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I LOVED it! I went on Goodreads and out of curiosity looked at what other readers had to say about the book. I couldn’t believe that anyone wouldn’t like it, but of course, there are people who don’t like chocolate, strawberry shortcake, or walking along the beach.

People have different likes and dislikes, and as a writer, we have to know that there will always be people who don’t get us or our characters or our stories. That’s just how it is.

You can’t please everyone, and there are, sad to say, haters out there who just enjoy hating and might need to see a proctologist to have something removed from a certain part of their bodies.

But if there are recurring issues being brought up in reviews, we might want to take these critiques seriously and see if or how we should apply them to our future work. But we can’t know if there are recurring issues if we don’t read the reviews.

That being said, you don’t need to read a hundred reviews to get the gist of what your readers think. After all, that would take hours and hours, and that time needs to be spent writing!