A Kind Word

I’m going to start with a quick introduction (i.e. excuse). It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written anything on here. Last fall, I accepted a part-time job with the local school district. So between two part-time jobs, two full-time kids, a minimum of three novels being balanced at any given time, and trying to find some time for my own mental health, blogging kind of fell by the wayside. But I realized recently that I have something to say, so I’m hopping behind the keyboard again. Hope you enjoy!

We live in a day and age that many people seem to have forgotten the impact that a simple word of kindness can have on a person. It’s so easy to be mean online. To not think twice about what you say. To let your emotions run the keyboard and never think twice about it. Cyber bullying runs rampant, partially because it’s easier to be cruel and hurtful when you don’t have to see the pain your words have caused.

As a result, I think people have started to underestimate the power of words. Yes, they’re just words. A strand of sounds put together that amazingly make sense in our human brains. Even so, words can hurt. But they can also help. It really is amazing how much an off-the-cuff compliment given at the right time can affect a person’s life. In my case, a rejection email I received years ago is part of the reason I haven’t given up on writing.

I started writing long, long ago. Like a million years in dog years. Okay, so maybe I’m not quite that old. But some days it feels like it. My first “querying” experience came when I was a sophomore in college. I had written a novel. Looking back, it was a hot mess of everything that could have been wrong with a novel. It was full of cliches, purple prose, and the plot had more holes in it than a piece of moldy swiss cheese. (Don’t ask why it has to be moldy. I’m the one in charge here.) But I was proud of what I’d accomplished. I had completed a novel. (I didn’t realize at the time that completed also meant revising the ever loving…whatever out of it.)

So with the cursor flashing at THE END, I threw myself into the world of querying. A world that I now realize I knew NOTHING about. Full of naive excitement, I attended a small romance writers conference that was held about an hour from my house. Prior to the conference, I sent an email to the editor of the small press I was going to be pitching to, asking him if he’d be willing to take a look at the manuscript and give me some feedback on it. (This is a no-no, by the way. Like I said, I didn’t know better.)

To my surprise, he agreed, and had me send over a partial manuscript. When I met with him at the conference, he had a lot of really nice things to say, and actually asked me to send the full. I was convinced my moment had arrived. I was going to be published. And my life was going to be full of fancy book tours and chocolates and…Then came the rejection.

It landed in my email a few months later. He let me down gently, saying I needed to concentrate more on my setting (which was probably his way of toning down “What in the actual f*** did I just read?”) It stung, but it was the end of the email that truly stuck with me. He said that even though it hadn’t worked out, he strongly believed he would see my name on the bookshelf some day.

At the time, it didn’t mean that much to me. I was licking my wounds from my first real rejection. But over the years, those words have burned themselves into my brain. There have been many other projects. More rejections than I care to count. And plenty of times that it would have been easy to give up writing and walk away. After all, it’s a big mountain to climb, and just like Mount Everest, not everyone makes it to the top. But every time I considered calling it quits, I thought of those words. And they were enough to push me to hit send on the next query, or jump into the next set of revisions, or start on a new project because the last one just wasn’t quite right.

I don’t remember his name, or even the name of the press he was acquiring for. And I’m sure he doesn’t remember me or that email. It’s possible he said that in all of his rejections. But for me, it was the push that I needed to keep going.

Is it possible I would have pushed on anyway? Of course it is. I’m a Taurus. We’re known for being stubborn. But I’ll never forget those words, and one of these days, I will prove him right.

Moral of the story: Don’t lose faith in words. They have power. But like superheroes, with great power, comes great responsibility. Be kind with your words. Use them to inspire. To encourage. To lift up. Not to tear people down. Because we can all use to hear some kind words every now and then.

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Eyes on the Prize

When I first started mountain biking, a friend of mine went out with me to help me learn the basics. The most important piece of advice he gave me was simple: “Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.” Easy enough, right? With every swoop and turn, I felt a little more confident. I rode over ledges (a whopping four inches tall) that I wouldn’t have thought I could ride. I was feeling pretty damn good. (We’ll ignore the fact that the trail we were on was equivalent to a two-lane highway as far as mountain bikes are concerned.) We were almost to the end of the trail, and I was really getting in the groove. We came to a spot in the trail that dropped down into a creek bed before climbing up the other side. My friend went first, telling me he’d wait at the top.

I dropped into the wash. And then I saw it. A big rock on the side of the trail. It shouldn’t have been a problem. It was well out of the middle of the trail. But I couldn’t stop staring at it. “That’s a big rock,” I thought. “I don’t want to hit that.” Next thing I knew . . . BAM! I’d hit the rock and crashed in the bottom of the ravine. Luckily the crash was relatively minor, and I had to laugh. If I had kept my eyes on the trail, I probably would have been fine.

While riding my bike today, I realized that this advice applies to more than just mountain biking. Last month, I submitted my work into a pitch contest. The results came out last night, and suffice to say, I didn’t make the cut. Am I disappointed? Definitely. The people involved in the contest all seem awesome, and I would have loved a chance to work with them more closely. But at the same time, I can’t keep staring at the rejection like I stared at that rock.

If you get on a mountain bike, you’re bound to crash. If you decide to put your work out there, rejection is bound to happen. And like crashes, rejection can hurt. But you can’t concentrate on the obstacle, because you’ll never make it where you’re going if you do. Keep your eye on your end goal, whether it be in school, in writing, or just life in general. And whatever you do, keep an eye out for that rock!!!

Victory!

I did it. I have won the epic battle. It’s taken me seven years, more hours than I am willing to admit, and literal blood sweat and tears, but I finally accomplished a feat I once thought was impossible. A feat that an estimated less than one percent of the US population can lay claim to. I have slaved. I have toiled. And I have triumphed. I am unicyclist. Hear me roar.

Wait! You’re probably asking yourself if you read that right. Well, you did. I can finally say, without an ounce of trepidation, that I can ride a unicycle. Now to some of you, that may not be as exciting as say . . . getting a publishing contract. And maybe it’s not. But there is a lesson to be learned, and it’s all about perseverance.

I started falling off the unicycle around seven years ago when my husband got it into his head that he was going to learn to ride one. (I’m still not entirely sure of the thought process there.) He ordered one, and promptly left a grey streak of rubber across the living room carpet as he wobbled his way through our house (because naturally he decided to learn this skill in the winter.) It wasn’t long before we were making excursions to the park. He was riding further and further every day. It wasn’t long before he decided that he wanted me to learn with him.

So I indulged him. I grabbed a stepladder and started falling off the unicycle. Repeatedly. Again. And again. And again. And eventually I started to make some progress. But before long, life got in the way. Or I lost motivation. Either way, I quit trying.

That became a constant cycle over the next seven years. I would decide I wanted to try again. I’d work at it for an hour. I would make progress. Then it would get put away, and I wouldn’t try again for another six months. Or a year.

This year, the Moab Munifest (mountain unicycle festival) returned to Moab after a five year hiatus. My husband was thrilled and eagerly signed up to go ride some trails. I took their return as a sign that I finally needed to get my ass in the saddle (literally) and make it happen. So I did. I spent night after night outside, falling off the unicycle. Making progress and falling off again. And you know what? All that hard work paid off. I’m not a great rider. I still fall off more times than I don’t. And I can’t ride more than a couple hundred yards before my legs get tired, and I need a break. But I can ride a unicycle dammit! And that’s more than a lot of people can say.

Now what does this have to do with writing? You probably already figured it out, but I’m going to indulge myself and spell it out for you anyway. When you’re a writer, you’re going to fall. A lot. And there are going to be times where you’re going to walk away from it all because you’re tired of it. That’s okay. If you need a break, take it. But keep coming back. Keep fighting. When you fall off, dust yourself off and climb back on. You may not get it this time. Hell, you may not get it the next sixty-two times. But if you keep trying, eventually you will make it. 

Or you can give up writing, and learn to ride a unicycle with me.

 

My Writing Process- Blog Tour

Fellow writer Suzie Hunt tagged me to participate in a blog tour. Suzie’s blog is located at http://suziehunt.co.uk/blog . She’s currently working on her second book in the Smokey Days series. Her first, THE RISING WIND, is available for sale on Amazon. The series is about a world where humans are caught in a war between two supernatural races. In an effort to save themselves, the humans sacrifice the very things that make them human.

As part of the tour, I was asked to answer the following questions.

1. What am I working on?

Right now, the answer is a hodgepodge of everything. I’ve written a couple of short stories recently. I’ve been spending a lot of time polishing query letters and a synopsis of my finished manuscript PLAN B, and I have a couple works-in-progress that I’m in the process of rewriting. One of them is a romance, and the other is a New Adult contemporary. I’m also toying with a couple of ideas for new novels, so I’ll just have to see where I end up going from here.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Because it’s mine. Seriously though, New Adult is a relatively new genre, so in itself it’s covering a lot of new ground. The trend tends to be toward romance, and though PLAN B has a love story, it’s background noise compared to the rest of the story. I also like to take characters that people wouldn’t generally sympathize with and make them lovable.

3. Why do I write what I do?

That’s a hard question. I write what inspires me, no matter what the genre. So far the stories that have come to mind have all fallen into the New Adult category. It’s probably largely due to the fact that I went through a lot of major life changes during the period of my life that would fall into the New Adult genre: college, moving out, getting married, my first baby. Though many of those subjects might seem mundane, there’s a lot to work with when it comes to writing a novel.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m going to out myself as a pantser right now. I’ve tried sitting down and mapping out what is going to happen from one chapter to the next, but I just can’t feel it. For me, the easiest way to write a story is to sit down and write. I usually know where I’m going to start, and where I want to end up, but the journey in between is somewhat of a mystery.

I try to get as much writing done as I can during the beginning of the week. Being a stay-at-home mom, I only get a few precious hours while my youngest is at preschool. The rest of my time for really dedicating myself to writing comes in stolen moments here and there. Twenty minutes while they watch a TV show, an hour in the afternoon when they’re supposed to be upstairs playing quietly, and as long as I can stay awake after they go to bed.

The last two years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, which made a huge difference in my writing. I had written a couple of novels, but I was stuck in a rut. Participating in NaNo forced me to write. And now I’m addicted. I usually start with a scene or a character, and I just start to write what hits me. Later, I’ll go back and rewrite. Then probably rewrite again. After a few rounds of edits, I’ll send out to beta readers. Depending on what they say, I may do another rewrite, or I may just change a few scenes around here and there.

Other awesome blogs to check out:

Misa Yny writes over at http://www.nolongervulcan.com . She has a lot of great book reviews as well as really great links to articles with publishing advice. Check her out.

Robert Emmett is the mastermind behind Flip Top Headgear which you can find at http://irobert.me . His book MEOWING ON THE ANSWERING MACHINE is available for purchase. And if the short stories in it are anything like his short story “Sparks”, it is a hilarious read. The blog has tons of fun art in addition to writing.

Colleen Halverson has just taken up blogging for the same reason I started this blog. She only has a few posts so far, but she talks a lot about what it’s like to be a writer. You can read her posts at http://colleenbhalverson.wordpress.com .

Black and White

I have a new short story for everyone today. Check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

Black and White

The dress. It was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. The dress that my sister and mom had picked out for me. The one they’d spent hours squabbling over. I didn’t care. I would have shown up to the church in rags if they’d let me, but they wouldn’t have that. So that overpriced dress had been hanging in my bedroom for the last two days waiting for its turn.

There was nothing wrong with the dress in theory. It was beautiful. Maybe even elegant. But I had a feeling that once I put it on, I would never truly take it off. It would graft itself to my skin. My life. It would become part of who I was, and who I always would be. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

When the shriek of the alarm filled my quiet bedroom, I rolled over and willed it into silence with the press of a button. I hadn’t been sleeping. Wasn’t sure I’d slept at all. How could I? My stomach was a writhing mass of nerves. A live electric wire.

I crawled out of bed and headed into the kitchen. My mom and sister were already there. The smell of coffee permeated the house. But it wasn’t Brian’s. Mom had brought her own. She smiled at me, her eyes shining. She tried to convince me to eat, but I just shook my head. Not now. Maybe later. She furrowed her brow, but didn’t argue.

My mom and sister insisted on doing my hair and makeup. They wanted to pamper me. I wanted to escape. But I let them. While they tried to tease my matted rats nest into something beautiful, I closed my eyes and started checking items off the list. Flowers: check. Music: check. Priest: check.

I tried to picture Brian in the suit I’d picked out for him. I’d chosen black. He looked amazing in black. With a royal blue tie that he loved because it brought out his eyes. I wondered if he was already wearing it.

Then it was time. I headed back to my bedroom where my mom and sister helped me pull down the dress and climb into it. Their incessant chatter was giving me a headache. I could have done this alone, but they’d flown a thousand miles to be there with me. So I kept my mouth shut and let myself disappear into the deep folds of fabric.

We headed out front to wait for the car to pick us up. It pulled up to the driveway, and my dad opened the door. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready. I knew everyone expected me to be there, but it was too much. That damn dress was making it hard to breathe. I bent over, trying to catch my breath, the electric wire in my stomach shocking everything it touched.

My parents crouched beside me whispering encouragement, but I couldn’t move. What if I just didn’t go? What if I tore the dress off and ran away? Never looked back? People would understand, wouldn’t they? 

But Brian deserved better than that.

“We’re going to be late,” Mom whispered, her voice urgent. She didn’t want to push. Didn’t want to scare me away. But we couldn’t be late.

I finally stood up, carefully wiping tears from my eyes, and Dad helped me climb into the back of the long, black car.

The church was already full when we arrived. Brian was at the front. Waiting. But the tie was wrong. Where was the one I had picked? Where was the royal blue tie? I took a deep shuddering breath. It didn’t matter what tie he had on. The blue one wasn’t going to make this any easier.

Dad took one of my arms; his touch soft and comforting. He offered a small smile, that flitted across his lips so quickly I wondered if I’d imagined it. Unrecognized tears sparkled in his eyes. I’d never seen my father cry.

He opened his mouth to say something, and my breath caught. It hung open for a moment, the words hiding inside a cavernous abyss. Then he snapped it shut and patted my hand. Sometimes silence was better than words.

He walked me through the door into the church. Everyone fell silent, twisting in their pews to get a glimpse of me. Women were already dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. The familiar strains of a string quartet followed my halting steps to the spot where Brian was waiting.

The priest smiled gently at me, but Brian’s face was fixed. As still as stone. I placed the single rose I’d brought beside him in the casket. “Til death do us part,” I whispered, a tear tracing its way down my cheek.

When I grow up . . .

The other day while we were driving my six-year-old announced that he’d decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. My heart swelled in anticipation. What would it be? An soldier? A firefighter? A doctor? No. None of those. He wanted to be a . . . (pause for dramatic effect) dishwasher at a hotel.

Now, no disrespect towards dishwashers everywhere. It’s certainly a necessary job, and it’s one of the many duties listed on my resume as a stay-at-home mom. But it wasn’t exactly the type of shoot-for-the-stars goal I’d anticipated. Especially since I can’t even get him to help wash the dishes at home. So we talked for a while about some of the other career options that are available, and he finally changed his mind. Now he wants to be a scientist. Pretty broad, and I’m not sure the pay is much better, but at least it’s something to shoot for.

Afterwards I realized that, at almost thirty-years-old, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. The uncertainty is a little disconcerting, especially because I always had a plan when I was younger. For most of my childhood, I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I was in middle school I set my sights on Colorado State University because they had a good veterinary school. I did an independent study with a local vet, and I joined 4-H where I raised sheep and goats in addition to my family’s menagerie of dogs, cats and the occasional llama and horse. 

Then, sometime in middle school, like most childhood dreams do, things changed. After a particularly unsettling injury to one of the goats in our flock, I decided I didn’t have what it took. For a while, I was set on being a country music singer. (Good thing none of you have heard me sing. The shame would be unbearable.) Then it was a teacher. Then a musician. Or a Marine. I started college as a music major, but changed quickly thereafter to English. I wanted to be a writer. In all reality, making it in this world as a writer probably isn’t a whole lot easier than making it as a singer (short of the fact that I have at least a smidgeon of talent when it comes to writing. The same can’t be said for singing.) But I was passionate, and I started writing my second novel.

Six and a half years ago, my son was born. When my husband was offered a job in Moab, we decided we’d move, and I would stay at home with my son. So now, here I am. I am a wife and mother. And even though it’s hard for me to admit, I’m a writer dammit! This definitely isn’t where I thought I’d be when I was a kid, but I’m happy to be here. At least I’m not washing dishes in a hotel. And who knows. Maybe some day, I’ll find a real job. Or maybe I’ll find a way to make writing a real job. Only time will tell.

So what about you? What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you make it?

The NaNo Gods must be crazy . . .

We’re more than halfway through the month of November. Thanksgiving is only a week and a half away. My husband’s beard is getting decidedly bushy, and the NaNo Gods have decided to throw everything at me. Including the kitchen sink. Maybe it’s time to look for a better sacrifice. My time and sanity don’t seem to be cutting it.

On Saturday I had my first failure of NaNo. Despite writing and desperately updating my word count up until the very stroke of midnight, I only managed to log 1,356 of my 1,666 2/3 word goal. Now I could blame it on a lot of things. I could blame it on a lack of inspiration, my own procrastination or a bad impersonation. It’s got to be some sort of ation, right? But no. I lay the blame squarely on the shoulder of my bushy-bearded husband.

My husband is not nearly as big of a fan of NaNo as I am. In fact, he pretty much just hates it. Apparently I spend too much time obsessing over writing, and not enough time paying attention to him. (Forgive me. I’m an addict.) So this year in a blatant attempt to ruin my run at NaNo he went and got sick with pneumonia. Pneu-fricking-monia! Are you kidding me??? I blame it on his beard. Surely the pneumonia organisms wouldn’t have been able to settle in if they hadn’t been able to cling to the unshaven strands that are covering his face.

Needless to say, Saturday was the climax of his illness, which resulted in us spending our afternoon in the Emergency Room (because small town’s don’t understand the need for Urgent Care centers). Thankfully an amazing friend watched the kids so I didn’t have to try and corral them around the hospital waiting room.

The good news is, I have quite a few words saved for a rainy day like Saturday was. Par for today is an even thirty thousand words. I’m currently sitting at 36,673, and I haven’t written today. Well, that’s not true. I’ve written two and a half newspaper articles and this blog post. I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and work on NaNo. But I will find time. I will preserver. And tomorrow and Wednesday I will have a bit of respite while both kids are in school, and the mending spouse is at work. Hopefully I can work my way closer to that elusive 50,000 word target and not give myself pneumonia doing it.