Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fields of Gold

Life is moments, most people would agree. Some of these moments are stellar, and some are nothing but horror. But if we are lucky, more moments are on the way. More moments to learn, to discover, to live. I had a particular moment this morning that made me think of writing a blog post (I haven’t been very blog-posty inspired lately). I haven’t been terribly writerly inspired either. As I’ve mentioned before, I went on a writing hiatus, my first in a few years, and discovered many things, made new goals, and found a few pitfalls that have been lingering around, waiting to trip me up.


For me, the truth about writing is this: when I’m writing I’m connected to my mind and my heart, I’m connected to who I want to be, I’m connected to faith. Without writing, I’m adrift, but not always unpleasantly so. But when I’m not writing for an extended period, I find myself devoid of answers, of the translation of what my core is wanting or screaming for. And mostly, I feel disconnected from my faith. Without writing, I lose myself. Is this healthy? Who knows and, in some ways, who cares? The trick about life is to determine what the self needs, what the community needs, what the world needs, and live and be that. I am better to myself, to my family and friends, and consequently, to the world when I’m writing (whether I market my work or not). For this reason, a dear friend gave me an assignment: write essays about what’s going on in your head, so you don’t keep bumping into walls every five minutes (rough translation... she was much nicer in an Obi-Wan Kenobi kind of way).


These essays (because of course I do what Obi-Wan says) have illuminated much of what I am grappling with and have given me directions to move in. These essays have been my not-to-be-shared blog posts lately, as I wander through my own mind. And something from these essays inspired a moment this morning.


Lately, and what drove me to my writing hiatus, was frustration with my writing, marketing my writing, looking over fences at all the fabulous things happening to other writers while I continue to toil, and a not-small amount of feeling sorry for myself for all the things that everyone else seems to have in life that I don’t. Poor Me squared.


And I am here to say that part of the need for a Poor Me phase was the Pollyanna mojo I’ve had going on for over three years of writing and rejections. The body needs to grieve for loss and to lick its wounds. So, if you need to get your pout on, you Get Your Pout On. But the time for pouting can only last so long, which is why my essay last night was basically a Quit Yer B*tching kind of rant.


Today came the softer side as I stared at myself in the mirror while brushing my teeth and listening to the most beautiful song in the world. The song gave me the other side of why it was time to quit whining. The song is Fields of Gold (Sting) performed by Eva Cassidy. And the reason it moved me so much this morning is that when I do behave like a nincompoop and look over fences at other people’s lives, I feel forgotten, lost, ignored, and like the game is over because others are successful with their writing (and lives) and I haven’t been... yet. Yet. That is the key to foiling the frustrations. The game is not over because I am alive. I have more moments. And lovely Eva Cassidy doesn’t. I heard her song for the first time a year ago... roughly fourteen years after she died at the age of thirty-three. Her moments ran out. Mine still exist, and my story isn’t finished, and as long as we have moments, we have possibility, and to ignore that is to miss the most important point of life. To live it.



Quote for the Day from Fields of Gold


“You’ll remember me when the west wind moves

Upon the fields of barley

You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky

As we walk in fields of gold.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Times of Transition

Four years ago and a few months, I moved across the country to a city I knew nothing about and where I knew not a soul. I did it all without much thought. A job opportunity presented itself and I leapt. I closed on a house in twenty-eight days and began what was the most difficult year of my life (to date). That year (the dark one) taught me more about myself than any other year of my life, and the lessons I learned have fueled what have become three of the best years of my life.


Before the tremendous job opportunity came along, I felt cramped in my old life, a life where everything seemed defined already—me most of all. I was my parents’ daughter, my brother’s sister, my friends’ friend, my employers’ employee. I was fixed, like a dead butterfly on a biologist’s cork board. No one made me this way, it was simply that nothing had challenged the definitions by which I saw myself. The move fixed all that. All of sudden, I was flying (and occasionally crashing). I was alive, even in occasional misery.


Over the year and the ones that followed, I became myself, not anyone else’s definition of me. I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately as I move into a new time of transition, the point where change is fueled by an internal wanderlust.


I’m not moving again, nor do I find that I really want to (after years of wishing I could be closer to family and friends again). My life is here. My wonderful, modest heaven of a house is here. My seasons. My new friends. I am home.


But that doesn’t mean that I am fixed in place. I’m not. My mind lately, since I’ve been on my writing hiatus, is crafting and planning, wandering through other dreams and goals from years ago, looking at all the ways my life can flourish for a new season of change. There are things I want. Goals that haven’t been touched. Writing is still chief among them, but I’m thinking of writing things I never would have dreamed I would touch. Darker things... more fixed in reality. I love the fantastical worlds that I’ve been privileged to create, but new voices are wandering into my thoughts, voices yearning to find their way onto paper.


We mustn’t ever stop pushing ourselves to be more, to grow more, to discover more. Stagnation is the enemy of all creative people, but my goals don’t just include writing. My mind is restless to learn new things, to delve into fields of study, to push to know more about this world. And in other ways, I feel my life opening to greater changes than I’ve ever known.


When I began my writing hiatus, I thought it was due to bitterness, but I was wrong. I just needed some rest after working myself into disillusionment. And now, without stories filling my head and every off-work minute of my life, I’m discovering blossoms inside myself, growing in the shadow of the fictional worlds to which I’ve been devoting my life. Without writing, I can give the buds some sunlight, allow them to bask and grow, and together, all my goals and I can make a plan for the new adventures waiting just around the corner.


Quote for the Day from Helen Keller


“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Upside of a Meltdown

For three years, I have been living the writing life, filled with hopes and dreams, energy and imagination, and queries and the fun-filled (like, not so much) pursuit of an agent. Before that, I wrote a lot, but not with focus and determination in equal measure. I’ve mentioned before that I write every day and that writing is the best part of my days. I work a full-time job, and that time in the evening when I settle in to live characters’ lives and discover the soul inside fiction is like a drug. It’s not a chore, but it is work. For three years, I’ve been filled with faith, so much that rejections became just part of the process. The agents’ notes, full of compliments and comments about how I was just so close, but not quite what they were looking for, became barely speed bumps, just fuel to keep writing new stories and putting them out into the world to see what came back.

For three years, I believed.

And in one day, I didn’t.

I started taking days off from writing while on vacation in August and enjoyed not writing every day, seeing other things, doing other things, and sleeping more. The world wasn’t quite as bubbly, but it wasn’t stark either. Turns out, when you have more time on your hands, you do more. I would still dabble in my current story, but days would pass between visits. And then last week, I reached into my faith well, the place where all my belief about being a successful, published author one day lived. The well was empty. Instead of feeling horrible about the whole thing, I felt relief, not having noticed that, for years, I’d been carrying the untenable weight of believing.

Within myself, I hadn’t acknowledged the letdowns, the close-but-no cigars, that had become common along my journey. The fulls that agents never responded to (and yes, I requested status updates, several times over many, many months). Watching and being ecstatic over friends’ successes, only to wonder when I might have a turn. Believing is truly a heavy burden, and freed of that weight, I got mad. Furious with everything: myself, the universe, the publishing industry, Borders for closing, the people who don’t read, and my puppy for chewing on my curtains. It was sort of a free-range rage.

A friend asked how it felt inside when I spewed my venom. My answer: delicious. It truly felt wonderful to give up the Pollyanna and get going with the Captain Pissy Pants. It still does a little, but as with all life lessons, there is really another side to all of this. An upside.

Yes, I’m on a writing hiatus, but I’m living more. Without my shot of pure happiness found in my writing, I’m looking around at my life and I can see other dreams and hobbies. I’m going out with friends more. Walking dogs more. Going to a shooting range to do my part to deplete the Zombie hordes (so, I discovered there are Zombie targets at the gun range and can’t get enough... I even shot a Zombie warthog-looking thing). I’m thinking about my career and other goals that I hope to accomplish in my life. I’ve thought about going back to school. I’ve made some new friends and reconnected with others. I can breathe a little more... and clean my house.

I can see a real future because I’m not so addicted to living in fiction.

What this means for my writing I don’t know. I know I love it... like I love nothing else. I know writing brings me a kind of connectedness I rarely feel in my life. So, I would guess I will get back to it, maybe even write in some different genres to cleanse my palate and vary up the marketing experience. I’m not sure and I don’t really enjoy how that feels, but I’m glad I’ve found that the upside to my writing meltdown is a healthier, more balanced life.

Quote for the Day from Charles F. Kettering

“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.”


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Benevolent Nostalgia Day

One morning recently, I woke with a strange sense of nostalgia, warm and light-hearted nostalgia for all the people who have shared my life. Memories circled of times I hadn’t thought of in years, of people who at varying points have been extremely close to me but now aren’t. Old loves. Friends. Even enemies. People who have both built me up and torn pieces away. And about all of them, I thought only kind things.


In the past, accusing me of holding on to old wounds with a fiery vengeance would have been fair, but in recent years, the slights don’t matter as much. The hiccups along the road only serve to flavor life, not taint it. We truly have the chance to free ourselves of the weight of these long gone wounds. We have more power inside us than all the X-Men put together (more than even Buffy and the Terminator), because we have the power to let go of what needs letting go and hold tightly to that which can lift us and our loved ones.


So, for today, which I have dubbed Benevolent Nostalgia Day, join me in sending warmth and love to the people who for whatever reason walked a while in our lives. I’m not sure they can really feel it, but I’m sure we are better for sending it.


Quote for the Day from Lao Tzu


“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Acceptance

For the living, life is the only game in town. For zombies, ghosts, leprechauns, and fairies options abound. Perhaps that’s why we love fantasy, because life, though a gift and our only option, is challenging, is beauty wrapped in thorns. Is fragile.


Since January, I’ve been fighting the most human of battles, a process every person will experience, a process so common, it comes with already defined stages.


Loss.


Last week, I had an epiphany that changed my direction and pulled me back to the lightness I’ve been missing in my life. Grief, the knowledge that loss is coming, whittles its way into our core, takes root there, and controls the curtains in our souls that have the ability to bring light in or to leave us in darkness. I’ve been warring with those curtains for months, constantly wondering where my previous easy happiness had gone. I deliberately sought the things that make me happy, the things that inspire me to laugh at myself. Things that gave me little bits of light, but the shadows soon returned, overtaking all my hard work.


This is what grief does, overpowers everything else. And now, I’m so surprised I missed the reason for my season of sadness. I am going to lose a treasure, a dog, a best friend, a companion for more than a decade. I’ve talked about my Darby on this blog before, after his surgery last year and the return of his cancer in January. What’s strange is that I thought I was dealing with all of this so well, congratulating myself for my thorough organization and compartmentalizing of grief. I thought I’d mastered the beast. But in looking at the months between January and now, I see that all my struggles, my battles to get back to being happy, were all signs that my body, without my permission, was dealing with all I sought to control.


Last week, while sitting on the floor, working with frustration to get Darby to eat something—anything—thoughts began rumbling in my mind, and within a couple hours, I was searching the Internet, reaching for an understanding of the stages of loss. And I found myself.


Bargaining.


Somehow, my efforts to get Darby to eat, which have been difficult since February, turned out to be my epic battle against cancer. If I could just get Darby to eat, everything would be okay. Cancer’s vicious efforts to waste away formerly healthy bodies wouldn’t win. That’s a lot of pressure to put on dog food, treats, even hotdogs, and especially on my plucky border collie. More than that, it was an unbelievable pressure to put on myself. To control that which cannot be controlled.


In the moment I realized what I was doing, I found myself in a new stage: Acceptance. And even though an exhausting transition, I could see that this necessary step would lead me back to happiness even though the great loss is still ahead of me. My struggling to just reach normal faded away behind the ease of surrendering to forces beyond my control. Acceptance, even of awful things, is a necessary part of life—and one of the hardest for a person like me.


What shocked me was that in accepting my limited power over cancer or canine aging, I found acceptance of the other things beyond my control, other things that have been riding me through the dim times. The pursuit of publication is right in the mix here, as are the other things missing in my life that exist beyond my control.

We can write the books, craft them, edit them, submit them to readers who slice them, and we can send them out. Those are the things within our control. The beyond is what people will think, whether publishers will publish, whether readers will read... and tell their friends—all the beyonds that we can do nothing about but trust, accept, and surrender to life, the only game in town.


That trust, acceptance, and surrender equal an even greater thing: faith.


And faith allows me to enjoy Darby, relax about what he eats and how much, and just feel grateful that his trusty soul is still in my presence for a little more time.


Okay, well, I might have discovered that Darby will eat Three Dog Bakery carrot cake pastries no matter how he feels. Maybe I should have called this post: Acceptance... with Pastries.


Quote for the Day from Melody Beattie


“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”


Friday, June 17, 2011

Freedom

As a writer and avid reader, I truly believe in the wonder words are capable of, the lessons that reach in and mold us from the journeys we’ve taken in the world beyond reality, the one with the power to touch us though there is nothing we can actually grasp. So, for today’s post, I thought I would share the words from my favorite book that comfort me during the arduous process of querying and facing the demons of rejection, and sometimes more heartbreaking, hope.


My favorite book is called THE MOUNTAIN IS YOUNG by Han Suyin. Ever since the first time I read it, sometime during the 90s, this book has been my friend, the one I turn to in times of distress or when I just need to right my thinking after it has tilted.


Han Suyin’s lovely story follows the life of a writer named Anne Ford, who experiences an awakening of her self, her faith, her writing, her heart, all set against the backdrop of Khatmandu. The book involves some passion, some Eastern philosophy and spiritualism, and lessons every writer can learn from... and lessons every person can grow from. Anne, in the story’s beginning, is living in a cage of society’s making, something she has chosen for herself as well. She is “nicely dead” walking through her life, something all too many of us are guilty of at different points of our journeys.


Khatmandu wakes her up. A fellow name Unni does more than that. And she scrapes away the hard shell she’s been living in to grow new skin, new life, and the possibility that comes from it.


Though out of print, this book is well worth finding and reading. And though it has so many gems in the exquisitely written text, the words that help me most as a writer come from Anne’s conversation with a man called the Field Marshal (I’ve shortened it a bit to get to the core of what moves me, but definitely check out the entire book that always reminds me why I love words so much).


“I don’t think I underestimate,” said Anne. “I wanted to write once upon a time, but I’m not a genius, and I think the spark is gone.”


“Why qualify and delimit with a word which means exactly nothing, and thus diminish your powers, whatever they may be?” said the Field Marshal. “Do not worry to give a name to what you do, my friend. Is it not sufficient that to you something is given, not to be buried in the ground, but to use? Use it well, with no thought of success or failure — but then I should not reiterate what you know better than I do.”


“I don’t,” said Anne. “I just don’t always know what is right to do.”


“That is everyone’s question. A problem, which only faith, belief in some creed, appears to solve. You can believe in all humility, seeking the depths of yourself,” said the Field Marshal, who sat like a small Buddha in his chair, his head wrapped in a cloth, his belly strapped in a large pink waistband to protect it from the cold, “you can do, but never be attached to success or failure in your actions. In other words, remain detached from the fruits of action...”


“It is difficult to be detached and perhaps still work with the same élan.”


“On the contrary, it is easier to work if you believe that you are but a vessel to do God’s will, and divine to that extent... Let God who made the world worry about it. Your duty is to do, and thus to revere life.”



I’m not sure I need to follow that up with anything, because what could be more powerful for a writer than to know that we are doing what we are inspired to do, whether you believe that comes from God or the universe or whatever word is used to express the kind of connection writers feel when they are inside their gift.


The world may see us as brilliant one day or maybe not, but truly, our only real duty is “to do, and thus to revere life.”


Happy writing.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Meeting Ms. West

As many in the writer blogging community know, blogs provide us with a community of supportive writers and, upon occasion, introduce us to the people who will become some of our best friends. I have been fortunate to become close friends with two different writers, both of them wonderful, generous people. On Friday of last week, I had the delightful opportunity to meet one of them in the real world for the first time: Ms. Kasie West.


Kasie and I began communicating just a couple months after I started my blog, and her treasure trove of goofiness and ability to write truly inspired songs about me (it’s a good thing she writes novels instead of songs, that’s all I’m saying) brought about a friendship that is as dear to me as any I’ve ever had. So when I found out she was going to be three hours away from me for part of a day, I took the day off of work, woke myself at 4:30 in the morning, and left the house just after six, with a new playlist to test out for the novel I’m writing and an excitement that made three hours fly right on by.


And then we met at the most scintillating of places... yup, that would be Denny’s where Kasie was having breakfast with her husband and amazingly wonderful in-laws (I’m not married, but if I ever am, I want people like these for in-laws... and actually before I got the chance to hug Kasie, Mrs. West hugged me first... how wonderful and welcoming was that!). I spent a truly magnificent day with Kasie and her family, exploring historical sites that I knew nothing about (okay, maybe I prepped with some research so I wouldn’t feel like an ignorant toad). And then we only got a little lost on the way to dinner (never ask Kasie a question about her life while she’s supposed to be studying a map... just saying).


On the drive home, I couldn’t get over the feeling about how magical the day was and that it was one of the best days I’ve had in recent memory. And it never once felt like we were meeting for the first time, because we’ve been an active part of each other’s lives and writing for quite a while now. I truly feel blessed in the friends, both writers and non-writers, that I am fortunate enough to know.


Thanks to the Wests for welcoming me into your very special day. And a huge congratulations to Kasie on her book deal. I’ve read her book, and I told her it was brilliant (maybe a few times). Isn't it nice to be right! :)


Oh, and yes, I felt like Lilliputian all day (which turns out to be a reference not everyone knows... extra points to Jared for just nodding politely and acting like I was as normal as Kasie. :)


Quote for the Day from Anonymous


“If you're alone, I'll be your shadow. If you want to cry, I'll be your shoulder. If you want a hug, I'll be your pillow. If you need to be happy, I'll be your smile. But anytime you need a friend, I'll just be me.”


Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Dear Blog Letter:

Dearest Blog-apotamus (everything sounds funnier with -potamus on the end, just ask my dogs),


Almost a month has passed since my last post, and I wanted you to know that this distance isn’t your fault. It’s nothing you’ve done. It’s me. It’s my “other” writing. It’s coming between us. And I want you to know that you are still loved, and all the other blogs out there are still loved by me, though I haven’t stopped by in a while.


You know I’m not moderate sometimes. You know that I have these fevers, these obsessions with fiction that drive away everything else. And that’s where I’ve been, typing so much it’s hard to use my fingers. Eating almond butter and grape jelly sandwiches every day just so I don’t have to cook anything that will require taking time to do more dishes. Playing with the dogs, while working on my laptop, plotting stories while I mow the lawn. Yes, I know, I seem like someone who needs meds, but I’m happy. And as my blog, I would think that you cared about my happiness.


Pause.


Oh, you don’t. You think I’m a loser who is ignoring my responsibilities. Well, if you are going to be like that about it, fine. See if care.


Pause.


You are right. I’ll try to do better. I will even promise a new post on or before Monday in which I will share photos from my super secret outing tomorrow, during which I will be meeting one of my author heroes, who is also thankfully one of my dearest friends.


And so, fair thee well, little blog. You are not forgotten.


Julie


P.S. Happy writing everyone!


Quote for the Day from Henry David Thoreau


“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Gift of Tears

Every one of us experiences hardships, sadness, letdowns. Not one of us will go through this life without feeling the potent, life-wrecking power of true loss. It’s how we deal with life’s struggles that tells who we really are, or maybe even who we need to be. For today, because it’s Friday the 13th (and I don’t want to jinx myself), I’m thinking more of the smaller hurdles, not the greater. The ones that ache inside us but don’t floor us.


After spending several less-than-glorious years as a wallowing fool, I decided to ‘just say no’ to murkiness, in favor of simply moving forward when greeted with difficulties. As a rule, that seems great. The laws of attraction folks might even cheer, but recently, I’ve discovered the darker side of this strategy: denial. Even if we paint on our giddy faces and approach each struggle as a chance to overcome, inside us, grief is still happening, only it isn’t being released.


During a recent conversation with a lovely friend, she said, “You can stop being grateful for everything you do have and be a little sad for what you don’t.”


She said this after I talked about something with her and tears came, which I always announce with some amount of shame, “I’m going to cry,” as though people need to be warned that my bright and shiny has tilted. Her words got me thinking about my life and the way I live it. She’s right. I don’t cry as a general rule, except when tears force their way out while I’m talking to someone (sometimes at completely inopportune moments). I don’t sit at home and have a cry-fest for a few reasons. One, it feels like a waste of time. Two, I could always be doing something to move my goals and life forward. Three, crying when I look around at how lucky I am seems like an affront to people who suffer much more than I do. And four, my tears upset my aging soul mate of a border collie. Tears equal useless in my mind, but they break free anyway, always tamped down by my exacting nature with myself (I would never be as unkind and control freakish with anyone else as I am with myself).


This is where the denial comes in. Even though I don’t free the tears, the sadness lives and needs a voice. The person inside me who is hurt by living a solitary existence, who struggles with rejection like any writer, who experiences hurt and loss like everyone else has a right to her tears. But still, I can’t just cry (see above, waste of time).


That is where books come in. Last weekend, I read Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series (which I have loved). This book, thanks to some very heavy handed foreshadowing in previous books (so heavy handed, I called it forebillboarding), involved the death of one of Anne’s children in the horror that was World War I. Walking with the character, while he struggled with his poetic soul, too gentle for such violence, against the sense of honor and duty that leads people to enter the fray, brought forth such a slew of tears that I had to put the dog in another room to protect him from fiction-based anxiety. I wept. A lot. And could right now. I’ve said before that I have no protective filter when I read. For a well-written story with compelling characters, I live the characters’ lives and suffer their hardships.


But what I found after my day of tears was that L.M. Montgomery gave me a gift, a way to mourn that which needed mourning. She, through her beloved poet, gave me a catharsis the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a long time. And though emotionally exhausted afterward, I also felt free. Like the Day of Atonement observed by my wonderful Jewish friends, this was my day of grieving. It was a necessary experience for me to get my happy heart back and to be able to move forward with a more relaxed, accepting sensibility.


But then, it’s also made me even more grateful for my life, to live in a world with books, to have been raised in a place where reading is taught, to have a very special home to live in with an abundance of peace, for a day that I could push everything else aside to live in fiction, to have my border collie still around after I thought he’d already be gone, to have... to have... to have...


I am very, very grateful for my life. And for you.


Quote for the Day from Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery


“But tonight somehow, all the beautiful things I have always loved seem to have become possible again — and this is good, and makes me feel a deep, certain, exquisite happiness.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Girl Has to Know What She Wants

My mother told me a story of a friend of hers who said, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.” In her mind, she had a vision of what she wanted for her life, and she did marry a rich man (mostly because she never dated any poor ones). Because she and my mom went different directions with their lives, we’ll never know if achieving that goal made her happy or not, but for today, her story is one of knowing about our own inner wants and doing what is necessary to achieve them.


At this point, it would be easy for me to stumble along the path of all my writing goals and yada, yada, yada. But I’m not going there (querying is hard enough without all that gushing and hoping and praying and pleading and writhing). Instead, I’m going to share another goal (I’ve got bazillions of them).


I want to live to be 113 years old. Yup, that’s what I want. And I want to be healthy, fit, happy, and still writing. (During my conversations with my inner selfness, it might have been mentioned that if I just keep writing and submitting and outlive all the agents who reject me, I’ll have a chance at the next generation of agents and the ones after what, when ebooks are history and novels are downloaded directly into our brains.)


So, 113. The number itself came out of a conversation with one of my favorite people, who happens to be a former student of mine. She told me I’m never allowed to get old and die, so we negotiated a deal that I would live to be 113 and she would be ninety something and we could die at the same time, like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. A perfect plan.


But after we made that plan, I started to wonder about us wonky humans. I feel odd to have an “age of mortality” goal, but shouldn’t we all have an idea about how long we want to live and how we want those years to go? Isn’t it more odd that most of us don’t give it much thought? Maybe we feel that the cards are already dealt, or we don’t want to think about how our actions today could affect how many days we get with our grandkids (or granddogs if we aren’t fortunate enough to ever have kids).


I think about it sometimes when I’m walking into my building and see how many people will brave terrible weather to smoke (smoking is not for sissies in a climate like this). I really don’t believe that any of them would want to give up the days they have with their loved ones, and yet they are. Maybe the enormity of mortality sends us into a fugue state, from whence denial springs.


My 113-year goal has made me think about the way I live my life. I’m a bit of a health nut anyway, and this has made my dedication even greater. But today, I’m not really thinking of food choices, but rather mental choices. I joke about it, but I really don’t want to be a snarky old lady, with a pointy-tipped cane screeching at young kids to, “Get off my lawn!”


And then I read this news article about the death of the last combat veteran from World War I and that got me thinking even more. What a plucky, awesome guy he was, who only lived to be 110 (I know, 3 years shy of my goal). His life teaches so much about staying positive no matter what happens, being true to self, and sharing love with family and friends. His life made me want to live mine better, to be more grateful, to laugh more, and even when querying, to not take life too seriously.


After all, I’ve got somewhere around 26,741 days left to go; I better get cracking!


Quote for the Day from L.M. Montgomery in Rainbow Valley


“It is never quite safe to think we have done with life. When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.”


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reader Powers Activate

While in the querying mode (and searching for my inner calm happy place), I’ve been doing a bunch of reading. To me, it is the most effective cure for all of the powerlessness I feel once I press send and allow the query birds out of their cages. After all, I wouldn't be a writer if I hadn't first loved the power of storytelling. I’m that person who, when I love a book, pesters everyone around me and random people in stores to get on board and support the story/author. I have a dedicated team of people who read whatever I recommend and who sometimes wait to see if it gets my seal of approval before purchasing. They then pass on the recommendations to their friends. All this makes me feel very powerful and happy with my place in the reading universe.


Lately though, I’ve struggled a bit with my powers because the one thing I can’t stand in books is the one thing I’ve been finding a lot, especially in the final books of series: hopelessness. I’ve blathered about this in the past, but I think the world is hard enough without fiction to bring me down. Because of this fear, I greeted the final book in the Wicked Lovely series with some trepidation. I love these books and Melissa Marr’s writing and characters (particularly Seth... whom I swoon for), and I was terrified because of my experiences of late and the dire nature of the conflict that would reach its resolution in the final book.


However, not reading the final book wasn’t an option either, and I knew I had the sixth book in the Anne of Green Gables series to pick me up if my favorite faeries and their keeper let me down.


Reader powers activate because I am here to tell you that Ms. Marr is awesome. The final book is magical and the ending incredibly satisfying. It was dreamy and wonderful and everything I could have hoped for. Gush much? Well, yes I do. This book renewed my hope for... well, hope in YA books.


The dark side of my reader powers is that when an author lets me down, I won’t read another of their books... ever. I lose faith in them and don’t ever again want to be dragged to the depths by caring for the characters they create. Now, this isn’t to say that killing off characters or having a story reach its natural conclusion equates with hopelessness. I kill off characters in my books (more often than my readers forgive me for), but death is sometimes the necessary end, the sacrifice that provides the power to the story. But all too often (see network television), annihilating characters is a ratings device, a sucker punch, and feels contrived and inauthentic to the story world that was created. Let’s just say, we know when we’re being played.


The most obvious example I can come up with isn’t from my reading, but from my movie watching. I love the writing/work of Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. I especially love his ill-fated Firefly series, up until the point he made it into a movie and slaughtered half the characters for no real reason. I won’t give any specifics, but I was ready to acquire a Joss Whedon voodoo doll after the event that followed a favorite character saying, “I am a leaf on the wind - watch how I soar.” It was just unnecessary, and the emotional resonance was completely lost on me because I was too freaking mad to care anymore. After much introspection and brain control, I have blocked the movie from my memory and believe that the crew of the Serenity is alive and well, stealing stuff and shipping cattle beyond a distant terraformed moon (and Mal is still wearing those pants).


Back to Darkest Mercy, wherein Melissa Marr gives the gift of a well-crafted, incredibly imaginative tale, with absolutely amazing characters that is worth reading... again and again. Speaking of the characters, I must say that while I loved most, there were a few I didn't really like, and wouldn't you know, Ms. Marr deftly changed my mind about them, defying my long-held opinions and ultimately making me root for those I thought 'unrootable.' The book's only flaw in my mind was that it was the ending of the series (although one character made a little deal with a faery that wasn't resolved and made me wonder if we'd someday see how that works out). I can certainly hope. But even if we don't hear any more from The Wicked Lovely world, I still have a favorite author's work to follow, hopefully for a very long time.


Quote for the Day from Unknown (A mantra for all those who are querying or have books on submission)


When the world says, “Give up,"

Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Quandary

First things first. My new project has left the nest, with story birds flying through cyber space on their way to the inboxes of Agent World. They bravely risk SPAM filters, challenging stares, and perhaps even “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” It is an exciting time for any story parent, I’ll say that, but my current quandary isn’t about that project, it’s about the next.


I have several first drafts ready to enter the next phase (I binged a bit on first drafts in the past year or so... because I love them and can’t ever get enough), and I have many new ideas clamoring to get free. And I’m really not sure which story to favor. In helping me with this decision, you must know that my process is to write a first draft, learn all the ins and outs, and then start on page one and write it over again, attending to all I’ve learned. So, whether I pick to write a second draft or a new first draft, the process will be the same. But my question isn’t so much about the process as much as the ideas. In the past, I’ve striven to take a completely different journey with each book I ready for market. My previous effort was YA fantasy; this one is apocalyptic YA. The next one could be post-apocalyptic or urban fantasy, or another I’m not sure how to categorize yet.


Please help. How do you pick the next story? Do you think about what’s going on in the market (which is my guess as to why I’m floundering in this decision making... too much thinking about business)? Do you go on the journey that is the pushiest? Do you start two (or three or four) and see which one wins the Story Gladiator Wars (I’ve done this before and it made my brain a little murky)?


Do tell.


And please cross fingers, toes, tentacles (hey, I’m not judging) that this story finds a receptive and eager agent. It would be lovely to get to the next step. :)


Quote for the Day from Betsy Cañas Garmon


“To decide is to walk facing forward with nary a crick in your neck from looking back at the crossroads.”