Monday, December 30, 2013

Water Under the Bridge: A Year in Review

Two thousand thirteen has been a year of ups and downs in every area of my life. Writing, running, career, family, it's all been a roller coaster, but what a ride!

I had several pieces published both online and in print. You can read the flash fiction that won runner up in the WOW! Summer 2013 Flash Fiction contest, "Planning, Peppers, and Push-up Bras, or Daddy's Three Essential Rules of Success" here:  http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/58-FE1-Summer13Contest.html. I also won an honorable mention through WOW! in the previous season for "Blonde Curls and Scurvy Pirates." No publication, but at least an on-line mention and a gift card! I was also published in an on-line literary magazine called PaperTape, and you can read the story, "Of MITCs, MUTBs, and Malicious TFs here: http://papertapemag.com/  (you'll have to scroll to the bottom), and if you want to buy Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories, and read, "One Mile Shy of Death's Door" it's on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Spirits-St-Louis-Missouri-Stories/dp/0989568598/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388434232&sr=8-1&keywords=spirits+of+st.+louis+missouri+ghost+stories. There are also lots of other cool ghost stories in there, too.

On the business side, I was elected President of the local chapter of the Missouri Writer's Guild and (I think) did a decent job at that. We grew in numbers, had some great speakers, and learned some new information. I also continued to serve as newsletter editor for the state MWG board. That's not a hard job, simply a time consuming one. Currently I'm on a committee to help suggest names for the board for next year. I worked with a couple of small presses in St. Louis and will continue to next year. I've decided when I retire I either want to work for a small press or own/co-own one. It's a lot of work but a lot of satisfaction in helping people get published.

As for running (whimper!) I ran, I got injured. I ran, I got sick. I ran, I got injured. (See a pattern?) I put in a total of 690 miles for the year. My reasonable goal was 500, my stretch goal was 750, so I met the one and was a few short of the second. Considering I came into the year injured plus had to bow out of my marathon because of a severe ankle injury, I'm pretty proud I made it past 500. I ran my first trail race and DID NOT FALL (Inconceivable!) and really enjoyed it. I'll do that race again. And I also one first place in my age group a couple of times. I didn't break my 5k PR of 28:27, but considering my pattern of illness and injury, I'm not surprised. That's what next year is for, right? I did bring my mile time down to 8:27, which for me is WAY cool, but I know is no Olympic record, but still, three years ago I just about died running a 12:12 mile.

School Fall semester? I survived. Next?

So, goals for next year?

Finish my novel Shadow of Redemption. Get it edited professionally. (I've already sent the check!) Get it accepted and professionally published. (No, I'm not self-publishing. I'm not frowning on the practice by any means, I'm merely saying I don't want to go that route. I don't have the time and I would rather sacrifice a little of the profit to have other people do some of the work.) Possibly get the publisher to look at sequels or spin-offs (which I have outlines/drafts of both). I'm going to apply to Clarion http://clarion.ucsd.edu/ and/or Clarion West http://www.clarionwest.org/ and try to get accepted to one of their programs. They are highly prestigious science fiction and fantasy workshops and with that kind of experience under my belt and on my resume, I can go into any pitch session/ write any query letter and add an extra gold star to my name.

I also want to use this blog to review books. One of the things I haven't been doing enough of is reading books. I also like to support other authors. So...the logical thing to do is to use my blog as an excuse...ahem...reason to read more and support other writers who write good stuff. Win/win!

As for running, I'd like to run one more marathon and beat a 5:30 time. Nothing earth shattering, but for me that would be an accomplishment. I'd like to run a 2:20 1/2 marathon, a 55 minute 10k, and a 27 minute 5k. If my body is able to withstand 1,000 miles next year, that would be awesome, but I'm going to listen more to what my body is telling me so I don't push to the point of injury. THAT would be a huge accomplishment: one year with no running injuries.

I'm also going to take a few education tests to get certified in more areas in case other jobs pop up. I'd really like to work with high schoolers/adults at the career center, but someone would have to leave for that dream to come true.

I also have made the personal commitment to de-complicate my life. (Yeah, yeah, after those three previous paragraphs?) No, seriously. I've come to the point in my life I realize I've branched my horizons in too many directions and I need to start focusing or I'm going to tear myself apart. That's what happened this last semester and my emotional and physical selves took a beating. It wasn't pleasant and my relationships and work suffered for it. During the semester break I've been considering what I NEED to do, what I WANT to do and what is REQUIRED that I do, and I am taking steps to try to protect myself from that disaster again.

The key for me is self-forgiveness. I always feel guilty for saying "no" or not doing things I know I can do. Just because I can do them doesn't mean I have to! Where did I get that crazy idea? Running around like a maniac woman trying to put out this fire here, that fire there, gets nothing done, pleases no one, and is inefficient. Focusing on a few things and doing them well, while also giving myself downtime to enjoy life will make me more productive (and easier to live with!)

And that, my friends, is the 99th Revision I've written. The next one I write will be next year and number 100. What's in store? Who knows. But that's why stories, and life, are sometimes so much fun. Until next time. ;-)


Saturday, December 14, 2013

When Life is Fuzzy, Can You Still See the Flower?

When I was in seventh grade I knew something was wrong with me. I was too stupid to ask anyone what it was. I was too stupid to know what to ask even if I would have had the courage to come up with an intelligent question. I even had the gall to think I was the ONLY girl in the world to think I was going through this horrific sensation of "not-rightness" of body and mind. So I suffered in silence for years like EVERY OTHER teenager with hormone issues. Urges I didn't understand. Physical and emotional changes that frightened me. Emotions so powerful they drowned all reasoning. On an almost daily basis my world would come to an end, only I'd wake up every morning and everything was still there and I'd have to live it all again. What a world, what a world!

And I kept it all inside, shadowing my darkness behind a smile and a joke for anyone watching.

Why? Because that's what you're supposed to do, right? Pretend everything is okay. Pretend nothing is wrong. Because if something is wrong then you're not in control. You're bad. You're a pariah. And to a teenager that's worse than death.

Why do we do this to people, specifically children who have no tools to deal with the emotional and physical toll puberty brings? Studies have shown the age of puberty has been pushed back several years, so the kids I work with in fifth and sixth grade are now experiencing what I did in seventh. They feel something is wrong but they don't know what it is. They can't define it, can't understand it, don't know how to deal with it, and certainly can't and won't ask for help dealing with it. But this is exactly WHEN we need to be helping them deal with it, to let them know they are not alone, they are not freaks of nature, and that what they feel and experience are things every other teenager has felt since the dawn of time. They are normal and will live through it and be stronger for the experience, no matter how difficult it is at the time.

This, I feel, is one of the goals of certain middle grade and YA books: to discuss these issues in a non-threatening way. Children need to read about other children experiencing and overcoming the same problems and gain the power from the knowledge that these issues can be overcome.

It is my hope that the novel I'm working on now, Shadow of Redemption will begin that journey for someone. Or several someones. While Emily parallels my own struggles with self-confidence and depression, it also shows how she grows as a person to overcome her issues. I think that may be the reason writing this book is such a passion, and sometimes such a difficulty, for me. Just like Emily, I'm not finished growing. I'm not finished fixing my issues. Revision is a constant battle, both on paper and in life. But isn't that what makes life beautiful? Can you still see the flower even if it's fuzzy? If so, there's still hope.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Snow Days, Conflict, and Plot holes

Nothing is sweeter than seeing/hearing the news that school is out for a snow day! Yeah, yeah, we have to make it up eventually. It causes scheduling problems, curriculum issues, and a myriad of other conflicts, but that's the natural consequence of a sudden blessing of, "Closed due to no one can get anywhere!"

And conflict is at the heart of a writer's meat and potatoes, right? Nothing but trouble is interesting? So as authors we pile up the trouble like snow on sleet on ice and watch for the inevitable snow day of reader glee when the characters are trapped under impossible circumstances.

Not so fast. See, here's the problem. Among the beautiful snowflakes of conflict that you heap upon your characters are bushes and leaves that won't let the drifts settle in the nice, even layers you envision. They poke out and make problems for you the writer and worse, jar the reader with their inconsistency, incongruity, and plot holes you can plow an 18 wheeler through.

Here's what I mean: In the current books I'm writing, Shadow of Redemption and Shifting Perspectives, in the middle of the books is a court scene where Daniel is put on trial. I won't ruin the plot by telling you why, but the opposing party has a strong case against him even though he's the hero and has done EVERYTHING RIGHT. Wait! Hold on! If he's done everything correctly, how can they have a case against him? Yeah, this is what I'm saying: nasty bush in the middle of the beautiful white snow!

This is where revision is definitely a dish best served cold! First, I blasted the scene out getting it on paper, then every read-through I've been picking apart all the issues that didn't work, adding new parts that do, further refining the arguments on both sides, and generally making things worse for poor Daniel. It's mainly a matter of perspective in this case: Kin (those who have supernatural powers) live by different rules than humans and he has been trying to live in both worlds. This court/scene brings home the fact that the Kin are just as prejudice as humans would be if they knew about Kin.

The second part to this is getting someone ELSE (or several someones) to read it and tell me what else is broken, what doesn't make sense, etc. There will be issues. I know this. It's a difficult scene to write because I have two very different cultures to try to represent. However, after time, multiple revisions and multiple beta readers, I have full confidence it will be one of the strongest and best-loved pieces in the book because of the conflict.

So, dear readers, enjoy your snow days whether they are with or without conflict. Keep in mind, though, there are always plot holes to avoid and/or fill in. Or pot holes. Hopefully your city DOT is good enough to catch those before you get caught yourself.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Life is a Trail Race Everyone Says "Don't Run!"

Yesterday I was delirious with fever. I was posting to Facebook ridiculous things all day. Now, I know, I post ridiculous things all the time, but these were ridiculous even for ME! As in out of my MIND ridiculous. I had a fever, I couldn't concentrate, I was supposed to be at my family's Thanksgiving celebration but couldn't for fear of infecting those with impaired immune systems. We have several people in that state at the moment. I was also supposed to be working on two newsletters and/or my novels. But what was I doing all day? Posting ridiculous posts on FB that made little to no sense because my brain wasn't firing on all thrusters. Funny, but sad. And unproductive.

So this morning I decide I feel good enough to go run a race I'd signed up for months ago. Not just a race, mind you, but a trail race. The difference between a road race and a trail race is the difference between Six Flags and Jurassic Park. Well, maybe not quite that stark, but seriously, trail runs are a whole different bird. (Haha! Bird. Turkey. Sorry.) The terrain doesn't give you the rebound on your shoes that the road does so you have to push harder with your legs to move faster. You have to focus on watching for roots, holes, stumps, wildlife, mud, rocks, etc. while speeding up and slowing down to adjust for the ruts and slants and hills and valleys of the terrain. Not to mention the random tree branch IN YOUR FACE! It's a lot of fun but a lot more tiring than just pounding the pavement for the same amount of distance.

None of my family wanted me to do it, for obvious reasonable reasons. I was too sick. I needed rest. It was too hard. It was pushing myself too far. I should be a good girl and stay home because I could make myself worse.

I went anyway, had a great time, and feel better. I didn't win anything, but, hey, I run like a turtle on pavement. What did I expect running on mud?

What's the lesson?

Just because someone tells you that you shouldn't do something for your own good doesn't mean they're right. Now, don't go using my blog as research to argue with your mothers and fathers because they're giving you GOOD advice you dont want to follow. I'm an adult and I made an adult decision. I WAS feeling better and I DIDN'T push myself beyond my limits on the race. But sometimes--sometimes--you have to listen to that voice inside you that says, "I can do this!" despite all the negative voices around you.

I watched this video and felt guilty on many levels for not being as successful as I could be because I haven't fully embraced my potential. I haven't let go of the safety nets and taken a dive into my passion. I'm not ready, yet. But every time I watch it, I'm convinced this guy is onto something: http://www.upworthy.com/this-aggressive-rude-negative-anti-motivational-speech-is-the-best-thing-ive-ever-heard-4?c=ufb1

So consider: are you letting the negative voices around you keep you from your passion? Are the negative voices from yourself or from others? Is it time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new? You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I guess that means I'm not insane, then, because I keep posting different craziness on Facebook, even when I'm delirious with a fever.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thirty Days, Two Novels, One Crazy Writer

Leaping small buildings with a single bound is easy compared to writing one (quality) novel in thirty days. Writing two? That's...that's...just insane, Cannon. Just insane. What do you think you're doing?

There is a method. Yes, I am crazy, but this world needs a little more of my kind of crazy, in my opinion. Let me 'splain. Well, this is a blog post, so let me sum up.

My initial plan for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was to finish Shadow of Redemption, the story of 16 year-old Emily who is afraid of everything but shouldn't be. She's been beaten down by the world and tries her best to remain unnoticed and alone. It's safe that way. Then she meets Daniel, the charismatic, lovable detective who tries to convince her she's worth more than living in rat holes and taking dead-end jobs and that people can not only be wonderful but make your life better. Throw in a bit of magic, some folk lore twisted in my crazy "there IS no box" sort of way and BOOM: urban fantasy YA is born.

However, life as a writer is never that easy.

You see, Daniel did this thing to me. (This is going to sound weird to you non-writers out there, but stay with me. I'll explain) Daniel decided HE needed to tell HIS story, too. So while I was writing Emily's story on the computer, I would dream (yes, quite literally) of Daniel's story and his adventures behind the scenes. And his story had such an influence on what Emily was doing (she was actually reacting to what he was doing without knowing it) that I HAD to start writing down his story. Thus, Shifting Perspectives was born. So, I figured, why not write them at the same time?

This seems a little over the top, but it actually works well in a revisionary sense. You see, when I get stuck on one story, I start writing on the other and figure out where to pick up on the first. The two characters play off each other in the most marvelous way. Where I thought Daniel was simply the foil for Emily, they actually foil each other. Not as in "curses, foiled again" but as in a reflection that makes the other shine brighter. And the more I learn about Daniel, the more I fall in love with him.

So back to the, "Daniel did this thing to me." If you're not a writer, you don't really understand. Characters have this way of surprising writers. It may seem to an outsider that a writer has full and complete control of their worlds (and some may. I don't know.) However, for me, it's like a chemistry experiment: I write the rules for the world, for the characters, for the plot and the setting, then throw everything into a box and shake well. Then like the good scientist I am, I sit back and observe and record what happens. Everything from that point on is (mostly) out of my control unless I change the rules (which is sometimes necessary). It's a little frightening, but also a little fun because I often don't know where my characters are going to take me.

So with one week to go, it's highly unlikely I'll finish both, but I'm a good ways into them and proud of the work I've done so far. Unlike some of the characters I've written about in the past, Emily and Daniel feel REAL. Which is huge. And I hope that translates to other readers as well.

Do I recommend writing two novels at the same time for everyone? Not necessarily. But sometimes it's good to have another project to help keep you fresh. Besides, if you don't try to leap smaller buildings, you'll never leap that skyscraper!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sick of Being Sick and End of the Tunnel Lights


Yep. I gots it. The head/throat nastiness that's going around. I sound like a chain smoker headed for a double lungostomy. Is that a word? I don't care. The fever is getting to me, I think, but that's all part of the fun. There's always light at the end of the tunnel, one way or another.

Just started (and finished) what my sisters and I call a "popcorn" book: a novel that can be read in one day (paperback 250-350 pp). I'm not a speed reader, but you put me in a chair and give me something I love to read with characters I love to read about and I can plow through it like an ox in a New York china store. I even shouted a couple of times. It was pretty awesome. Swordfights. Plot twists. (Man, she put the HAMMER down in this one!) Angst. Ancient legends. True love. Miracles...wait, that's another story, but anyway. It had EVERYTHING.

I want to write like that. I want my characters and plots to suck people in like a black hole and never let them go and leave them at the end breathless and lustful for more. I SO want the next book in the series and I know it won't be out for another few years. ARGACK! (This is my new frustration word. I made it up. I like it. It even sounds good aloud!)

One of the best pieces of advice I keep forgetting is that to write good stuff, you have to read good stuff. I have so little free time these days, my stack of "wanna read this" has reached taller-than-me proportions. That's pretty tall. And I have this terrible addiction to books in the sense that when I start one, that's all I want to do. It's like eating the first piece of chocolate cake and not being able to quit eating until it's ALL GONE even if it makes you sick. In this case, it makes me unable to keep a full-time job, get laundry done, live my life, etc. I've never been able to find a balance. So far. I'm still alive, right? I still have time to revise that nasty little quirk.

Speaking of revision, since this is NaNoWriMo, I've dedicated my free time to finishing Emily's story, Shadow of Redemption. In the process, though, I've decided I also need to work on Daniel's story, Shifting Perspectives so I can better flesh out what's happening behind Emily's back. If I do this right, at the end of the month I'll have TWO books, one of them (mostly) finished, the other as a first draft ready for edits. Pretty cool.

So as I close, I realize I'm starting to get cold and hungry. A good sign the fever is breaking and I'm probably going to have to go to work tomorrow. :-( Well, at least I have my lesson already prepared. And maybe I can slip in a few chapters of some book without interfering TOO much with my job. Maybe. (maybe). *grin*



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Crossroads, Foggy Swamps, and Cliffs of Insanity

In my first novel, the one that will probably be published AFTER my current work, (if at all) the main character, Brahms, tells his young protege, Eriq, "Choices make the man." In the context, Eriq is struggling with the fact that his background predisposes him to a life of using his magical abilities to hurt other people. Brahms, the eternal optimist, is trying to convince Eriq that the boy still has the ability to turn his life around through his own free will, even though he's made mistakes in the past.

Sometimes in life we feel we don't have choices. We always have choices. The problem is, we don't want to accept the consequences. Our choices define who we are and how we are perceived by others. It's an awful responsibility when you think about it. As much as we want to say, "I don't care what anyone thinks!" deep down we still want the love and approval of others. If our choices hurt them, even if those choices are "for their own good," then someone is going to be disappointed.

In writing, we have to choose carefully for our characters. What do they look like? What do they sound like? What are their quirks? What are their strengths? Weaknesses?

And beyond those bits of trivia are the choices THEY must make. Do we send them to the crossroads where they have clear choices and clear consequences (presumably!) ahead? Do we send them to the foggy swamps where they have no idea what they will face but they know they have to slog through and tackle whatever pops up out of the mire? Or do we plop them at the bottom of a huge cliff and insist they try to climb to the top before the evil mastermind cuts the rope?

What is the BEST choice?

Sometimes as a writer, that question haunts me. I write and re-write a scene and I can't figure out what is the BEST choice. Then I realize...remember, actually...that sometimes there ISN'T a best choice. Sometimes you just have to MAKE a choice and stick with it. That, my friends, is so hard to do at times. You doubt yourself. You doubt your writing. You doubt your choice. But you can't let the choice keep you from the writing.

Wow. Am I preaching to myself today or what?

So, a little teary-eyed from a self-revelation, I'm going to post, go back to my poor story that's been hanging in the cybercloud for some time and make some choices.

Go make your own. But remember, there are always consequences. ;-)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Living on the Edge: She Didn't Fall? Inconceivable!

When you look up "motivational posters" in Google images you get a lot of quotes including phrases like, "push yourself to the edge," and, "you don't know where the edge is until you get there," and such. This can be good advice for those who take advice as it should be taken: in moderation and in consideration of one's (honest) limitations. However, if you have a death wish, step right on out there to the mossy, wet, sloped surface and plummet to your death if you want to. Be my guest.

But we readers have this habit of losing interest in characters if they aren't pushed to the edge. (And honestly, writers lose interest in writing about them, too!) We want them right up there with the nose of danger breathing in their face. Why? Only trouble is interesting.

Perhaps that's why so many of us step out on limbs of our own. We want our lives to be interesting. Sometimes it gets too interesting. For example, I said "yes" to too many projects this year and had mental and physical repercussions because of my desire to please people. (Yeah, yeah. I know. Those of you who know me know I was mental already. I'm just more so now. ;-)

The trick to good writing is to take your characters TO the edge, but not beyond. Not unless you're doing parody or farce. This is a tricky balance. We've all read books, seen movies and TV shows that tried to be serious about all the horrible things that were happening to the characters when, instead, the readers/viewers were rolling in their chairs, laughing at all the ridiculousness. Taking yourself seriously when your audience thinks your material is funny is bad. Really bad. As in you've just lost readers/viewers and may not get them back for your next project.

Critique groups are a great way to gauge this phenomenon. It's difficult to see what others see in your writing, so why not take advantage of your literate friends and family who are willing to suffer through your stories and give you honest and helpful feedback?

So get your characters into trouble, but just enough. Take them right to the edge, but not over. And for goodness sake, never trust a Sicilian when death is on the line!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Social Contracts...Why I Now Hate Giraffes

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't been hit by the Giraffe Riddle, it will be spoiled in this post, so you've been warned!

Different people have different ideas of what a social contract is. A lot of people don't know what I mean. Every day of our sentient lives, we've lived with them. Most of us cave into them. Abide by them. Propagate them. Enforce them to the nth degree. Even change our Facebook profile picture to a giraffe for three days because of a stupid riddle. Why? Because.

That's a stupid reason!

Oh, but we HAVE to. That's what keeps a society together: our social contracts. I won't bore you by quoting Socrates, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or any of the other great philosophers on the subject, but there are several quite interesting theories on the subject:

One is that when you become an adult, if you wish to remain part of a society and if you wish society to continue its orderly peace, you must tacitly agree to abide by the rules, any rules, even if you don't agree with them. This is why Socrates suffered at the hands of the state rather than escape when he very well could have and possibly should have. Noble sacrifice!

One theory is that humans are, at heart, only self-interested and focused on advancing their own agendas. The best way to get that accomplished is to work together with other humans, therefore, we should make and keep social contracts with others. Honor among thieves as they say.

Yet another is that if the people are united under social contracts, they can take control of a governing body if that governing body isn't doing its job. Well...ahem...leaving that one alone. This blog is about revision and writing, not current day politics.

So, what does this have to do with giraffes? Well, there's a riddle going around that goes something like this: “It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread, and cheese. What is the first thing you open?”

Okay, so, the deal is if you answer correctly, great for you. You're a genius If you're wrong, for three days you change your profile picture to a giraffe. Why a giraffe? I don't know. Whoever started this thing must have a love (or hate) for giraffes.

There are actually TWO answers to this riddle: the RIGHT one and the one that's in the social contract being (wrongly) enforced on Facebook.

The correct answer is: the door. You let them in.

"No!" Your FB friend will tell you and throw in a few LOLs and winking smilies just to make you even angrier. "You open your EYES. Change your profile pic to a giraffe! Now!"

And without question, you do so. BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO for two reasons: One, "eyes" is the wrong answer and two, it's a social contract being wrongly enforced.

You see, in the riddle, it says, "...and you wake up." Your eyes are already open!

This is a really cool quirk of human nature that, if you can include it in your writing, will really make your characters "pop" off the page. Social contracts, wrong or otherwise, bind us into doing things we don't want to do but "should" do all the time: go visit our parents (well, I want to do this but I have exceptional parents), use breath fresheners, sit one to a table if we don't know people in a restaurant, don't look when people are putting on makeup or when children are misbehaving, make the bed (WHY? Please, someone explain that one to me!), not reveal the answer to stupid Facebook riddles in public (which I just did so HA!), etc. etc. The more you think about it, the more social contracts really do rule our lives.

Now I'm not saying you should go out and act like a crazy person breaking every custom and convention you've been raised with. That would be a little distressing. But sometimes your characters need to have a serious kick in the pants or talking-to about what they believe should be true in their little happy world of their minds. This could be the beginning of a great romantic relationship. Or novel. ;-)

Happy anti-contracting! (And no more giraffes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)



Sunday, October 20, 2013

Help me I-70! You're my only hope!

A small business owner, a teacher, and a grad student walk into a...car to go to a writer's conference. (Almost had you there, didn't I?) Each had a complicated piece of technology, a general idea, and one even had printed maps to lead them to their destination. All of them had been there before. Two of them several times. How could things POSSIBLY go wrong?

The trip started off well enough that afternoon. No racing out of town from shadowy figures trying to kill them, no wracking their brains for a way to blow up the asteroid before Earth was sent into the next ice age. Just cruising at 70mph north hoping they hadn't forgotten to pack something vital, like deodorant or earrings.

They hit Big City #1 stop and stop and go rush hour traffic just in time to accelerate the arthritis in the driver's hands by two years, but it could have been worse. When she almost missed the exit lane because of backed-up traffic, a nice lady let them in and the guy behind didn't rear-end them when the driver stopped too quickly. Finally, they were safely on I-70 and off to their next destination: supper with Aunt L and Uncle B in (evil sounding music) Nemesis, MO.

You see, there's this town off of I-70 (which shall remain nameless, but if you know the area of which I speak, you'll know) that contains a black vortex that not only scrambles the signals of satellites to $200 tablet locator maps and $400 Garmin navigators, but scrambles the brains of otherwise intelligent people. Every region has one. So does every good horror movie.

So, since none of the navigation equipment was working, in order to GET to the restaurant, they had to pull out the questionable printed directions, backtrack, drive scary back roads, and fight impending car sickness. But they got there. An hour late. Not bad, but by then it was cold and raining.

The soup was good. The conversation was great. The soup was good. Was the soup mentioned? (Momma said if you don't have anything good to say....)

As the hour was late and the three travelers were tired and needed to get to their hotel in the conference city, they said their goodbyes and parted. Should have asked directions then....

What followed was a harrowing hour of  cold, dark, and rainy "Interstate exit pinball" where they thought they were going in the wrong direction, found an exit ramp/overpass to turn around, then promptly realized they were right in the first place and there were NO MORE EXITS FOR SIXTY ZILLION MORE MILES. No, Mexico was NOT their preferred destination.

Finally, after heading in the correct direction, they saw the sign for I-70, the light at the end of a long, dark, rainy tunnel. They sighed and relaxed and counted the minutes until they were snug in their warm hotel beds.

That's not the end of the story. It never is in a horror flick.

Arriving in Big City #2, location of the conference, they were greeted by heavy construction, lack of street lamps because of said construction, and hundreds of rabid football fans in monster trucks driving around like crazed teenagers. The poor paper map just couldn't convey the information the travelers needed and once again, our intrepid band got lost.

No Garmin. No map. No lights. Crazy drivers. Cold, wet, car sick, headaches, (and the driver's contacts were drying out), what were they to do?

"Hey, guys? Anyone have the number to the hotel?"

And thus Customer Service Cassie saved the day by providing the path to salvation and soon, our three travelers were happily ensconced in PJs and comforters.

What's the takeaway? Even when your characters have travels well planned out, stress, hunger, environment, and the unknown always play a factor in mucking things up. It's amazing how a person's brain DOESN'T work when we're focused on the wrong problem and not thinking out of the box. Use that in writing and your characters become more real.

Oh. And the name of the conference? "The Write Direction"



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kindness as the Bus Drives By: A Rant

One of the things I love about the running community in my town is its support of the individual efforts of its members. No matter how fast, no matter how slow, we all cheer, coach, encourage, and support each other during training.

When we get to the race, though, we all run our own race. It isn't dirty, It isn't cut throat. But best friends will run harder than they've ever run, other friends will bet to see who wins (this time), and the losers congratulate the winners and we all go out for pancakes afterward.

Granted, this kind of idealistic POV isn't true for every runner in my town. But it's true for the majority.

Okay, writers, what's the deal? Why can't we do this?

When I see writers ripping OTHER writers to shreds on reviews, on critiques, even (goodness!) in person, it makes my gut roil in disgust. Why? It doesn't sell your book any faster. It doesn't make you a better writer. It doesn't make the community see us as a legitimate professional organization. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Throwing others of our community under the bus only threatens to overturn the whole bus, YOU INCLUDED! It's hard enough to get things published as it is with all the negative press that "regular" people are throwing around. When we get the riot act from our own ranks, what does that say about our profession?

A little kindness never hurt anyone. A little extra time to help someone pays off in the end, even if it's only that good feeling that you're not a bully or a grammar nazi. Not everyone you meet is going to know "the basics." If they need, and are willing to accept, a little coaching, do so without criticizing the fact that, "You should have known that." Well, they didn't. So what. Does that make you a god?

The "competition" shouldn't start until the book is on the shelf, and even then, especially then, we should celebrate our competition's winnings. If you don't have anything good to say in a review, then keep your fingers off the keyboard. Your work should speak for itself by its good writing. If you have to rip someone to shreads to get readers to read your book, then it probably isn't written well, anyway.

I have two degrees in English, a certificate to teach English, ten years + of teaching experience in computers and communication arts (and the occasional math class) and I still find myself learning things I didn't know. And making mistakes along the way. Life is about making yourself a better person and making your little corner of the world a better place. So start doing so. And please, please, people: start treating each other with a little more respect.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This Post Sponsored by the Letter...Squirrel!

Above is a picture of the trophy our local Writers' chapter received for our April win at the state conference. Notice the chip in the small marble block at the top? Notice the chips around the hole in the center of the big block? Notice that the nut isn't holding any of it together? Let's just say that when my husband and I--he holding the cup and me holding the marble blocks--tried to put it back together, comments were exchanged that aren't publishable on a public channel and we were laughing so hard we had tears rolling off our cheeks. For those of you are still confused, let's just say, the thing wouldn't fit and shoving over and over just didn't get the job done. 'Nuff said.

I got my hair cut this week. Short. Very short. My husband says it will grow out. Everyone else says it's cute. My stylist didn't quite do what I wanted--it came out looking more like a mullet than layered curls--so that night I literally took a whack at it and, now, yes, it's very short. It will grow out. I look like a crazed Anime character when I get out bed in the morning.

My computers today at school kept displaying the boot-up icon of a particular program and the icon WOULD NOT GO AWAY. It displayed in FRONT of every other program we pulled up. So there's this 2" by 4" eyesore in the middle of the screens, the children are all, "What's happening? I can't see anything! Mrs. Cannon! Fix this!" I'm on the phone with the tech department (we have an AWESOME tech department and they did eventually fix it) when glory be, the FIRE ALARM goes off for our yearly drill. So much for trying to finish that lesson a week before the quarter ends.

(Stick with me here, I do have a point.)

Last week I went to my trainer at the gym again about my injured foot. It wasn't getting better. She agreed with me it was time to go see a doc. I went to see the doc. He gave me the exact same exam, exact same diagnosis as my trainer. The only difference was his ability to prescribe an anti-inflammatory cream to rub on the sore areas. That has made a huge difference and it won't be long before I'm back out on the road running again. Personally, I think they should give my trainer a raise and the ability to prescribe this stuff 'cause she's awesome.

(One more. Promise I'll tie it together! Promise!)

I pulled into the gas station to fill up my car and a lady nearly sideswiped me to pull into the same slot I was heading for. The patient person I am, I simply drove around the parking lot, chose another station, and parked. When I inserted my credit card, the machine wouldn't take it. After three tries, it locked up and insisted I go inside. The nice lady at the counter (I could tell she was frazzled from a day of unhappy gas customers) said I had to prepay. So I did. When I reached the said amount, it wasn't enough to fill my tank, but I was too tired to go back in and pay more, so I simply took my second receipt, closed everything up, and drove myself home.

THE MORAL OF THE STORIES...Bad stuff happens. Deal with it. Accept it. Go on. Don't whine. Don't get your panties in a wad because the world ain't fair. There's always someone who's story is worse than yours, so be thankful for what you have. I may have injured my foot, but I have two relatives right now that are about to LOSE their feet due to health issues. I may have my lesson interrupted at school but at least we didn't have a real fire and lose the lives of children. Keep perspective. Be thankful for what you have. Even if your trophy is broken, you have it. Cherish it. Because you earned it.

Is that hot chocolate I smell?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Breaking Radio Silence

Let's see. In the last two weeks, I started teaching three night classes in addition to my full-time job, agreed to take point on a sci/fi anthology, went to St. Louis on a mini-vacation with the husband, injured my ankle on what was supposed to be a 19 mile run (I was a good girl and quit at six), received a broken trophy in the mail, and got a pink tutu (thanks, Aunt Linda!). Highs, lows, and so much in between I can barely breathe.

Studies show a moderate amount of stress is actually can improve job performance. Adrenaline pushes you to work faster and more efficiently. However, cross that line of too much stress and you run the risk of hurting not only your mental and physical health, but your reputation as well! If you take on so much that you can't give 100% to each job, you've said yes to too much.

That's your #1 weakness, Cannon: being able to do so many different things and wanting to keep everyone happy. Well, sorry, old woman, but you're not getting any younger. You can do a lot, but when you start missing appointments and showing up late because you've booked yourself back-to-back with too many meetings, it's time for an intervention. So your blog persona has decided to publicly out you. Quit making promises you can't keep. Quit taking on new projects without finishing the old ones. You're better than this. You need to MAKE time for the important things in your life like your husband and your family. When was the last time you had fun with a group of friends? Yeah, I know. You have to tough it out through the next few months of craziness because you signed your life away on those teaching contracts. You have to keep the promises you've made as best you can. But next semester, girlie girl, if you don't start saying, "no," I'm really gonna get raw in this here public forum and ain't nobody gonna not stop and waggle their finger at you for being thickheaded for a second go-round.

(Don't you hate it when your characters out of control? Yikes! So, I guess the takeaway is balance, Daniel-San, and don't anger the inner warrior. They get snippy on lack of sleep.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

With a Little Help from my Friends

I ran 16 miles today. These shoes. That watch. Witnesses, testaments, proof. Plus my body is a little tired and I'm going to be ravenous all day. Comes with the territory of running 3+ hours and burning over 2,000 calories before 9:00 a.m.

Don't get me wrong. This is not a blog to brag about my running prowess. I nearly didn't make it. Truth be told, I wouldn't have done it, would have quit and called my husband to pick me up a few miles in if it hadn't been for a little help from my friends.

You see, running long for me is tough for a number of reasons, a lot of them physical, some of them mental. (Yes, yes. I AM mental for running that long. Haha. As if I haven't heard that before.) My patellas don't track straight so I have to tape up my knees when I run hills or run over 7 miles. As a woman, I have hip issues that contribute to my knee issues, which lead to a whole host of aches and pains, tight muscles and ligaments. I'm tall and not a super-skinny person, either. Pushing around my weight is easier than it used to be since losing a bunch of fat and training 3-4 days a week, but it still ain't no walk in the park. And since I've only been running 2 1/2 years, I'm still a baby in the sport. My mental prowess is still developing and I'm still learning the difference between "need to quit" pain and "being a pansy" pain.

So what do I do? I go to our local Facebook page and recruit my own personal posse of runners who run at my speed (or a little faster to push myself) who help keep me going. The same people may not be running with me the whole time, but by running in several loops, I can run with different sets of people and get my entire run in while they get whatever milage they want, too. Everyone wins.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything!

If you want to publish, you really should write quality work. That means critique groups and/or editing services. Either way, you have to make working friendships with these people to trust them enough to 1) let them read your work and 2) believe they are trying to help you rather than insult your parantage and current lifestyle choices. Building a network of beta readers, critiquing friends, editing pals, whatever you want to call them, is key, I believe, in helping writers make it through the "long runs" of editing works into their best shape.

Second, if you want to market your published, quality work, you need to create a network of friends who will not only read your work but share your work with others. These fans aren't necessarily the people you'll share your deep-dark secrets with, but you do have to mingle, socialize, and get to know hundreds, perhaps thousands of people to create a network of supporters to make any money at all in the publishing field. Competition is fierce in every genre. What's the difference between your book and mine? If you know me, have shook my hand, and have made a connection with me, you're more likely to buy and read my book.

The last four or five miles of today's run, my body was done. Finished. Caput. It's a fueling issue I'll have to address on future long runs since I'm in training for a marathon. So what did I have left? My mind and my friends. My mind knew I could finish the distance because I had done it before. My friends knew I could finish because they believed in me. You really need both in the writing business to succeed.

I can't tell you how to develop a positive attitude except to keep pounding those keys and keep submitting work. Practice. Practice. Practice. We're going to write a lot of bad stuff before we write any good stuff. That's just reality. Once I realized that, I didn't feel so bad about my bad stuff.

But friends...although I always advocate being honestly who you are, you also have to treat others the way you would want to be treated. I've found balancing those two ideas has worked for me. Except with some people who just aren't happy with anything. Let them be unhappy. They're not worth your energy or mine. They probably don't buy good books anyway.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Naked Baby Pictures... A Writer's Worst Nightmare


My parents are having a yard sale. This is a big deal. Everyone in the family is required to come over in the weeks prior to the event to go through the boxes, bags, stacks, and piles to either claim what use to be theirs, or take anything else they want. Mom wants it gone as soon as possible. What's left gets priced at bargain-basement prices, some even as high as a quarter.

I was going through one of my boxes (high school certificates, senior class trip pictures of D.C., old dishes) when I found something that made me giggle and blush at the same time: one of my first short stories. It had been printed on that accordion paper with the holes in the side you can rip off. The print: pixelated dot-matrix. WOW! I thought all of them had been lost when the 5 1/4" drive died. (Yes, I am that old.)

Then I read the first line and burst out laughing. Oh. Oh my. Oh HOW AWFUL! I mean, this wasn't just bad;

it was teenage angst, idealistic, full-of-myself, HORRIFIC. In a terribly funny way. At least to me now. I knew nothing yet I was preaching to the world that I had the solution to the world's ills. BWAHAHA! Innocent, blind little baby.

So I found my writer's "naked baby pictures" and I remember now what I looked like back then. Will I ever let someone else read them? Maybe my very close friends. Maybe. But my point is, it's good to see where's you've come from and how much you've grown.

As for the poetry I found? That's going directly into the firebin. No one's going to be blinded by that waste of pen and ink. I'll leave poetry to real poets. :-)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Time Crunch...Avoiding the Falling Piano

We all have that day or week that events conspire to swamp us all at once: all the deadlines sync, all the hormones crash, everyone needs a piece of our time, the house is a wreck, we have no clean clothes, and to top it off, there's nothing to eat but canned soup and Ramen noodles. At this point I turn to my husband and say, "Idonwanna!" in a whinny two-year-old voice. He smiles and hugs me and for a moment it all goes away.

But I still have to deal with it.

For me, it all comes down to revising my life down to the essentials: what MUST be done and in what order. Once I make my list I start to feel better about the mountain of work ahead. With two newsletters, 650 kids to test, 30 total miles to run, four sets of submissions for four publications due, a night class to prep for on Thursday and the aforementioned laundry, dishes, and meals, I'm a little panicked about this week. Plus, I have some great ideas prepped for my novel and I want to finish the first draft as soon as I can, but when can I fit that in? What do I give up? My writing? The laundry and dishes?

I keep forgetting living well isn't all or nothing. I don't have to throw up my hands and surrender the entire week of anything. Instead, I should focus on each day and do what I can then forgive myself the rest. A body can only do what a body can do.

So, deep breath, list out, baskets of laundry ready to go, Garmin charging for my next run, notes for my stories sitting next to my computer, research for Thursday's class at the ready. Zen the days efficiently, Cannon. Smile and enjoy the journey. Pianos don't fall from the sky every day. And when they do, they make for great stories to tell later.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Expectations...Give me an Anvil and I'll Pound in my Head


Trust me, there's no one in this world who's a greater nemesis to me than myself. Oh, yeah, I have people that upset me, anger me, frustrate me, drive me crazy, and often make me question the direction of the human race, but when it comes right down to hate, it's that woman in the mirror who gets the brunt of the blow 100% of the time.

Don't get me wrong. I'm generally a very positive person. Even about myself. I have improved through the years. It's just that I've become so good at self-depreciation through the years, it comes easily and naturally. Especially in times of stress. For me, it's easier to take the fall, take the blame, take the bloody nose rather than try to prove I'm smart and lovable and wonderful...

...because deep down I still think I'm not.

I can think of some off-color phrases my husband, my close friends, and my family would insert right now that are not "G" rated contradicting my belief. I smile and blush and thank them profusely.

So why can't *I* see this? Why is it that we can't see the wonderfulness that is us? As a teacher, I run into the same issue with kids at school. I see their potential, their inner beauty, their amazing nature to learn and see and grow, yet many of them are limited because they think they are ugly and stupid and worthless. I coach them and push them and cheer their every success yet still, in the end, they still believe, as I do: I am not the wonderful person everyone thinks I am.

I think what it comes down to is expectations. We each have a set of expectations that are set based on some ridiculous bar set by society or media or fiction that is unattainable. Don't get me wrong. I believe high expectations gets you great results. But sometimes in the night when all you're left with is your thoughts, those little negative voices, they whisper poison in your ear that is counterproductive. And when you start listening to those thoughts, they start eating you from the inside out. It's a pain no one can see and no one can help you with unless you ask...but how do you express your pain without it sounding like, "Hey, would you give me a compliment today? I'm all about me and you should be, too." That is so not the point.

So when I get in these moods, I remind myself of how hard I've worked to get where I am physically, mentally, and spiritually. Peace doesn't come easily nor does it stay without constant effort. Counterintuitive, but I have found, true. I remind myself of the people around me who care about me and wouldn't STAY around me if they didn't care. What do I have otherwise that they would want? My furniture? Ha! And I also look at my expectations: am I expecting TOO much of myself? Do I need to say "no" so that I can focus and be wonderful at the things I need to do rather than being stressed about the million things I have to be doing?

Finally, I remind myself, I cannot allow myself to be defined by my failures. Failure is merely an opportunity to rise above the shattered remains of the past and grow stronger to face the next challenge. What is past is past. Leave it there.

On to the next revision, then.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reflections on the Summer: Cannon the Crazy Woman


As I pause before the storm of school hits this week, I grow a little maudlin about the passing of summer: I woke up when I wanted, took naps galore, went wherever my heart desired, only got out of my pj's once a week...oh, wait a minute. That's someone else. Sorry. But still, I will miss the freedom I had to create my own schedule and do a number of things I didn't have time to do during the school year.

First, I wrote a lot of stories, articles, and the majority of my second novel. Plus, it was a successful publishing summer as well! One piece in an on-line literary magazine, won an honorable mention in an international flash-fiction contest, three of my pieces will be published this fall in an anthology, and I still have a lot of pieces submitted in "possibility land." Who knew 40 would be this great!?

Our Fourth of July family reunion was lots of fun. Too much food, lots of conversation, a variety of instruments and songs played and sung, and did I mention too much food? My eldest sister and I found an alternate use for the hand-sewn tutus made for the grandkids. The family decided we looked like Thing 1 and Thing 2. Very well then. ;-)

I ran my fastest mile EVER. In the HEAT and HUMIDITY! 8:49! Now, for those of you who know anything about running, I realize that's nothing to brag about at the track with "real runners." You know, those, tall lanky (or short skinny) folks that can run a marathon in three hours or less. Or belt out a 100m sprint in 13 seconds. (If you've never seen that live, you're missing something amazing!) But in three years, this nearly 200 lb. woman (yes, I do weigh less than that but I'm rounding) has gone from a 12:12 mile to an 8:49 mile and I think that's something to be proud of. I'm aiming for 8:30 this fall and a 5k time of 28:00 this fall/winter season. That's AFTER the November 2nd marathon: 26.2 miles of body-jarring, sweat inducing, energy-sucking exhilaration. Do I know how to have fun or what?

I almost had my house clean. I baked cookies, pies, and made real meals a few times. My husband almost recognized he had a wife for a few weeks there. Poor man. He puts up with so much. Love him dearly!

And I also taught a few adult classes out at the CTC. I love doing those simply because I don't have to worry about doing anything but teaching. Enough said.

Here's where I vow to myself to carve out a piece of every day, no matter how small a piece, to write, to revise, to do SOMETHING "writerly" daily. I know I'll be busy teaching, meeting, supervising, and worrying about various aspects of my job and the students I work with. It isn't going to be easy. Nothing worthwhile is. That's what makes everything I do an accomplishment. That's what makes it all worthwhile. That's what makes people stop and say, "Cannon, you crazy woman!" Hehe. Yep. That's me wearing a 5k shirt and a purple tutu on my head. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I Am Borg...The Power of the Hive Mind




For those of you who aren't Trek fans, let me 'splain my title. No, wait. Is too much. Let me sum up: The Borg, in Star Trek fandom, is one of the Federation's ultimate enemies. The Borg is a Collective where no one is an individual. All independent thought is suppressed. The goal of every drone is the betterment of the Collective. A little like a bee hive or ant colony, only focused on universal domination and the destruction of all other sentient and independent beings. (Insert political joke of your persuasion here if you choose.)

But being part of a collective doesn't have to be evil. It can be a good thing. No, no! I haven't gone to the dark side. Even though in the mornings when I run with my headlamp, my beeping Garmin watch, my headphones, my reflective gear, etc. etc. I may look like a cyborg, I'm still mostly human. Mostly. ;-)

Back to the point.

When you work in a critique group or if you ask others to read your work and give you feedback, you are part of a collective. You're putting your minds together and trying to reach a common goal: a better piece of work. It may be your piece or theirs. It may be a piece you're working on together. In any case, as a collective, you have to work together to re-work the writing into a better piece.

There's one thing, though, that we humans often forget when trying to work as a collective: leave your ego at the door. This is for all parties involved. If you're asking for help, read the help with an open mind and realize the comments aren't meant as a personal attack but as a way to improve your work. Conversely, if you're trying to help, make sure you're making suggestions that will help improve the work, not just point out its flaws. And also praise the parts that are good, too.

See how this works?

Years of violin master classes and college critique groups have toughened my skin quite a bit. I can take a tongue lashing (or a red pen lashing, as it were) pretty well. However, I'm not everyone. Some people come out of their first collaboration/critiquing session and swear never to do one again. Worse, they swear never to write again!

So next time you're asked to look at someone's piece and give your opinion, consider this: collaboration is a jeweler's kit, not a jack hammer. Give them gems that highlight the jewelry they crafted, not break the concrete of the foundation they've tried to build.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hitting the wall...Marathon writing Gu

For those of you who don't know, I'm an avid runner as well as a writer. Avid as in I'm in training for my second marathon. Over the past three years I've run over 30 5k's (3.1 miles) a few 10k's (6.2 miles) and 1/2 marathons (13.1 miles) and one doomed from the start but very funny (after it was finished) marathon. I intend to redeem myself by running this upcoming one without making a bunch of rookie mistakes. We'll see.

How does this relate to writing and revision? Just bear with me.

When training for a marathon (26.2 miles and yeah, that's a LONNNNNG way to run without taking a nap!) you have to plan on certain factors that non-runners never think of. For those of us who aren't elite runners, it's going to take 4-6 hours to complete the course. That means we have to deal with these issues longer than those who can throw down a 2-3 hour marathon. THOSE people are freaks of nature. But in a good way. And I'm friends with some of them.

But as to the issues...remember, I do have a point!

Chafing and blistering: I won't get graphic, but after several hours of certain body parts rubbing against fabric (or other body parts), skin gets irritated. While training, you need to learn where your chafing and blistering points are, apply your preferred sweat-resistant chafing cream ahead of time, and you're golden. Except sometimes your toenails fall off, (which is a bragging point among runners) but that's another issue. 

Hydration and nutrition are other issues.That means you're going to sweat not just water but electrolytes and lose a lot of glycogen. During our long training runs, we try out different types of "gu" or "blocks" that add back some of those needed electrolytes and glycogen so we can keep running. One of a runner's worst nightmares is to get a DNF (did not finish) especially on a race that they've spent so much training time and money on.

For those who don't know, glycogen is the sugar in the body that gives runners their "kick". When you run out, your body hits the clutch, pops into neutral, and slowly shifts gears into fat burning mode. This is a long, slow, PAINFUL process called HITTING THE WALL. It's when you mentally and physically feel you have to give up because you have nothing left to give. Your body is in the process of shifting gears so it's spinning wheels on gravel, your mind is freaking out (studies show you actually produce chemicals that produce negative emotions!) because your body isn't reacting the way it supposed to, and the whole experience can literally stop you in your tracks.

If you let it.

So, dear writers. What does this have to do with writing?

Sometimes we get chafing and blistering when we constantly rewrite and rewrite a scene that isn't working. We do it so much the scene becomes meaningless and gets further and further out of context with the rest of the piece. What should we do? Well, I have two suggestions. One. Remove what's causing the chaffing. What are you saying, Cannon? Take out the scene? Yep. Take it out. Take it all out. Then re-write it from scratch without looking at what you had before. I guarantee you'll be happier with what you had before. It's a lot of work, but it's better than ending up with blisters every time you face that scene (or worse, procrastination syndrome because you're tired of working on it). Second suggestion is to take the scene, outline what you want it to say on a piece of paper or a separate document, THEN revise it. Either way, you should be able to "glide" your way past the blister. (Haha. Glide is a brand of chaffing prevention cream. Just in case you didn't know.)

And what happens when you run out of glycogen stores and you...JUST...CAN'T...WRITE? Well, okay, I'll admit, that's what I'm doing right now. Finding my writing "Gu" to recharge my creative stores. Blogging instead of working on my novel sometimes does that for me. So write, just don't write on the piece that you've been banging your head against. Keep writing otherwise you'll again get into the procrastination syndrome. But there's no sin in writing something else while your body and brain recover from whatever trauma they're dealing with that is preventing you from writing on your story. I'm dealing with a lot mentally right now. Physically, it's been really HOT lately and with the uptick in getting ready for school and training for this marathon, I just haven't been in the game. But I'm not giving up. I'm still going to write.

When I ran my first marathon I had two injured knees, fainted 1/2 way through (then got my butt up off the ground because I WASN'T going to get a DNF on my first marathon!), got leg cramps, stomach cramps, overheated, and sunburned but I learned a valuable lesson: persistence. Don't give up. Never give up. Find a way. It may take longer than you want but persistence is a stronger tool than any other. Go ye therefore and write!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Long Roads, Heartaches, and Why Can't I Just be a Writer?

At various times in my life, I've complained about my jobs. Yeah, I admit it publicly. I'm not always perky and silly and punny. Sometimes I yell and get angry and frustrated just like every other human being on the planet.

My current job is no exception. While I love working with children, love teaching technology, and love the people I work with, it saps nearly all my energy. During the school year when I come home at night I am a nearly lifeless husk of a pod-person. Being an introvert in an extrovert's world will do that. Sometimes I wonder how I drive home in my dazed stupor. I have no active brain cells left to write with, therefore, August through May, I write almost nothing creative at all. Which makes me sad. Nine months of the year lost because I have to eat, pay for a place to live, pay insurance, and fill my car with gas.

And I begin to wonder...wouldn't I be a better writer if I could quit my job and write full time? If my husband made enough money for us to live on, I could do the freelance gig to fill in the gaps while writing my stories and novels on the side and that would be bliss incarnate. What if we cut back a little more here and there, went out to eat less, and saved our money more? We could make it. It would make me a better writer. Really!

Maybe.

Then again, when I look at the YA novel I'm writing I couldn't have done that without LIVING around children who deal with real issues of abuse, neglect, learning disabilities, and social dysfunctions every day. Currently I have two people very close to me who are going through very scary medical situations. If I didn't take time off from writing and go visit them and cry with them and comfort them, I wouldn't see what going through those situations felt like.

Research is a wonderful tool. The Internet is my friend when it comes to many aspects of my books because I can't possibly know everything about everything. But when it comes to PEOPLE, nothing substitutes the actual living of your life to make your writing real. You will create more believable, more REAL characters when you really live. Sometimes that means you're not able to write as much as you want.

But some day, there will be a day when I won't have breakfast duty, lunch duty and bus duty all in the same day that I have three meetings, no prep hour, and have to break up a girl fight. (Girl fights are the WORST!) I look forward to that day.

Ah, retirement. Fourteen years down the road. Unless my husband suddenly gets a six-figure job. Which that works, too. ;-)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Going short...When word count is worrisome

When I finished the first typewritten draft of Shadow of Redemption, my newest novel about a girl who hides from the world but is forced into the light to help save some people she's grown to love, I ended up with about 37,000 words. As most "authorities" in the world of YA will tell you, that's mighty short of the 50 to 55,000 word MINIMUM you need for a YA novel. "Oh, but don't look at word count," they amend. "Make sure you have a good story. If you add fillers, the readers won't read it." Well, two for two, but here's the kicker: if you don't have the minimum, the publishers won't publish it. If you add fillers, the publishers won't publish it. So....

Honestly, I'm not really worried. All I need is 13 to 18,000 words--a few more chapters--and I'm golden. I just have to make them GOOD chapters. HONEST chapters. Not simply add-ons to fill the pages. So here are my options (and I can use a combination of choices, of course!).

Option #1 - Add another point of view: Currently, the book is only from Emily's point of view. I'd prefer to keep it that way. As a reader, I get confused when the writer keeps switching POVs, but if done right, two points of view can make a book much more interesting. I have enough side material on Daniel, the other main character, (I had to, otherwise I couldn't keep up with what was going on behind the scenes), that I can easily fill out the extra word count. The only "loss" is that the reader has less tension in trying to figure out the questions about Emily's past, origins, etc., but I can create other tensions. I would prefer to create a novella tentatively called, "Shifting Perspectives: Daniel's Story" and use it as a free or cheep e-book to promote the novel. (And yes, the title is a pun and I'm not going to tell you why.)

Option #2 - Take a look at her "empty" days: Right now, there are a lot of days that Emily isn't "doing" anything. While the reader doesn't need to know how many times Emily does dishes, goes shopping, or goes to the laundry mat, there are some additional adventures I can send her on/people I can have her meet that will help her reach her ultimate decision at the end of the book. I can have her consider her past as well, but I *hates me them flashbacks* when they run too long. A little can be cool. A lot can ruin a story. If I choose this option, it HAS to work toward the main plot, otherwise it is simply filler.

Option #3 - Expand the ending: This is a tricky one. As someone who LOVES Lord of the Rings, I was one of those fans that sighed just a *tiny* bit at the extended ending sequences of Peter Jackson's last movie in the trilogy. Yes, he had a lot of plot to finish. Yes, it was masterfully done. But come on, dude. Four hours of move, no matter how good, and we're ready to take a restroom break, take a walk, and get outta there! Right now Shadow ends BOOM. Done. I like it. No discussion, no down time, just "Oh, hello! Ending! Tie up the plot and lets get some pizza!" I could write one more chapter and BETTER explain the fallout from the final confrontation, but the reader already knows what's going to happen. Why insult the reader by telling him/her what he/she knows is going to happen? This is one I'll have to think about a lot to make it work.

Option #4 - Something I haven't thought of yet: Isn't that always the option the good author takes, is the one the reader doesn't expect? So maybe there's an option I haven't thought of that's the best one.

So sometimes revision isn't cutting, it's adding. Which for me isn't hard, it's just a matter of choosing the best of the crazy wackiness that's careening around in my head. After I input all the current paper revisions, I'm going to give it to a few readers, let *them* give me suggestions for additions (hehe, didn't I say I had an option #4?) and we'll go from there. Emily is one of my favorite characters I've created to date and I can't wait to see what people think about this super introvert who's going to have fits trying to learn social skills she should have learned 10 years ago. SO fun! 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Emily Gets a Puppy...That wasn't in the outline!

So I'm writing along on my new novel, following my carefully prepared outline, and suddenly I read back over the last few pages I've written to make sure I'm not dreaming because for some reason, my main character just acquired a puppy. I go through my notes. No puppy. I read through my typed draft. Definitely a puppy and a very significant presence for the rest of the story. What happened?

First off, let me explain a couple of things for those of you who don't know me, I don't have pets. I can't have pets. It isn't as if I don't like dogs and cats. In fact, I love little balls of fur that love you unconditionally and rub against your legs and play fetch and sit on your lap to watch TV with you and greet you at the door after a long day's work. (I don't like the cleaning up part after them, but that's part and parcel of taking care of another living being!) I'm highly allergic to fuzzy animals. Pretty much all of them. Including guinea pigs, which I had at one time. And since I don't know a lot about animals or how to care for them, I generally try to avoid writing them into my stories and having pet people cry "fowl" (hehe) when I say something that makes no sense.

But as I was writing Emily's story, the puppy made sense. As Stephen King said in his novel on writing, it's almost as if the puppy in the story was already there and  I was simply the archaeologist digging up the bones, revealing the history of what had been hidden.

Revision isn't only about changing your mind, it's about reading the mind of the world you've built and discovering where it leads you. A scientific experiment of sorts. Sometime that's a good thing. If you've done a good job of world building, you end up with a surprise puppy that leads to great plot twists. (Seriously, this puppy is one of the best things that has happened in this book. Tied together some loose strings I didn't know how to work in and made some of the plot twists even twistier. With just a puppy!) But you also have to be careful. Puppies can also lead to tangents that will take the plot too far off track or worse, ruin the flow of the book. That's why it's so important to have your rules already established for what works and what doesn't, especially in fantasy or science fiction writing.

So find the puppy, the surprising twist that binds together the strings of your life that you haven't been able to pull together. It's a sweet, tender moment to realize beauty still exists in the world, you don't have to be angry all the time, and that happiness is attainable when we find someone to love and trust.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Religion and Politics...YES, discuss them!

The other day my running partner and I had a long discussion (yes, while running) about a religious issue. She and I aren't from the same "brand" of faith nor did we agree on the topic. But we had a lively debate, laughed a little, learned a lot about each other, and in the end were still friends. Still. Friends. Seriously.

Over the past few months I've engaged in a couple of on-line debates/discussions about religious issues with Facebook acquaintances. They made their points. I made mine and even backed some up with scripture. No one convinced anyone of anything, but we made our points, I learned a great deal about their point of view (which was an enlightenment to me) and no one unfriended anybody. Seriously.

In this day of "don't discuss religion or politics" I think we've done ourselves a disservice. We've made ourselves MORE divisive, not less, because we're not practicing our discussion and communication skills. Instead, when the topics come up, many people ARGUE the topic rather than rationally and reasonably present their side with evidence to back up their opinion. We've lost the skill of debating. We've lost how to communicate with each other. We must be right and the other person must be wrong and there is no other way to see the issue. Final answer.

When did having a religious or political conversation become a competative blood sport? Why is it manditory that if you start the discussion on religion or politics you must win or the discussion is for naught? That's stupid. I would love for everyone to agree with me, but I realize that not everyone is going to see my point of view. That's life. I don't get my panties in a wad about it. It's okay if you don't think I'm right. Even worse, Heaven forbid, what if you CHANGE MY MIND and I realize I'm WRONG and have to admit that you're RIGHT? What do I do then? Why is that such a cultural taboo?

It shouldn't be. We should be open minded enough to listen to what other people have to say, judge it against evidence, and make our decision based on the evidence we have not make a concrete decision before the discussion begins. That's what makes us firm in our faith about our beliefs. If we can discuss it rationally, defend it rationally, and in the end feel strong about our position, then we have succeeded. It isn't about changing the other person's mind. It's about solidifying our own personal beliefs.

Or...if by listening to the evidence of "the other side" you find you're convicted to change your faith, then you need to change. This is the tough one, but the one we all need to revise our lives around. Being open minded doesn't mean I will automatically agree with everything everyone else says. But it should mean that if I hear something that makes me realize I'm wrong, I need to change. Change is hard. But that's how we grow.

Grow, baby. Grow.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Spirit is willing. Flesh? Not so much.

I went for a run today and half a mile in, my knee decided to quit. I've been running long enough to know the difference between, "Hmm, this is a little discomforting" and, "This is pain, I need to quit!" This morning, my knee was screaming "Pain! Quit!" and that's what I did. I didn't want to quit. I really, really, really did not want to quit, and stopping made me angry, but apparently that's what I needed to do, so I listened to my body and I quit.

Part of the writer's revision process is knowing when to quit. Sometimes your brain decides, "I've had enough and I can't do anymore!" That's not to say that your revision is done, but that at that time you're not able to do any more revisions. It's okay to give yourself permission to take a vacation from pounding your head against the computer screen. Sometimes you need mental rest. Sometimes you need to go physically rest. Sometimes you need more inspiration or more information to be able to revise your work. Sometimes you need a workshop or advice from another person.

That being said, a vacation doesn't mean that you quit forever. I'm not going to quit running just because my knee was uncooperative. I am not going to sit around and whine about it, though. While I'm  taking a break from running, I'll be stretching/massaging the muscles, icing the inflammation, and continuing the strength training to take care of my body so that next time I run, my knee won't give out on me.

As a writer and a reviser, you have to do the same things: find writing exercises that help strengthen your weaknesses and/or relax your mind so when you do come back to your project, you're ready to go. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Open a dictionary or encyclopedia. Pick two or three words and write a sentence with them. Use that sentence as the beginning of a quick scene or story.
  2. Go to a magazine or web page with lots of pictures you like (National Geographic, Flickr.com, Popular Science, etc.) and pick out three pictures. One represents a character, one your setting, the last your plot. Write one sentence to describe each.
  3. Pick one of your secondary characters who hasn't had much of a voice and write a scene from his/her point of view. Is your main character missing something because he/she isn't listening to this secondary character?
  4. Pick one of your "problem" scenes and write a list of all the smells, sounds, and objects seen and not seen in the room. What is there now that you missed before as a writer? How will your characters react to the stimuli?
  5. Pull up a different story, do some revisions, and submit it to a contest. Or, at least work on a different project for a bit.

In summary - Revitalize your mind. Revitalize your ideas. Take classes. Do what you need to do to get past the revision block, but don't quit forever. Never give up revising. To me, it is one of the toughest aspects of writing. But that's what makes the final product worth selling and all the hard work satisfying.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spirit vs. Flesh...no Religion Required

I recently read Joss Whedon's commencement speach at Wesleyan University this past May and was struck deeply by his words. Not only was it well crafted (I mean, come ON, it's Joss Whedon, one of the greatest dialog writers in the entertainment business!) but it was meaningful in a public sense for so many of our lost youth.

When I say "lost" I mean those hundreds of thousands of children (and some adults) who have no direction and no understanding of why they have no direction. He explained it all in this speach. I have other reasons these people are lost. Religious reasons that back up Joss's philosophy. But Joss framed it in terms sans religion so people could see the point without that politically charged lens.

Basically, we're all at war with our two selves, the spiritual/mental self and the physical self. When we can't reconcile these two selves, we lose direction and focus. We become focused on trying to please one or the other and never finding what pleases us because we can't please both at the same time.

To quote Joss, "You have, which is a rare thing, the ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself. To at least give it the floor. Because it is the key, not only to consciousness, but to real growth."

Wow. What a revelation. For years gurus have told us we have to be at peace with ourselves when what we really need to do is to listen to the inner conflict so that we can grow as a person. No wonder our youth are having so many problems! Now how's THAT for a revision of the week?

If you're interested, here's a link to the whole transcript. Read it. It might bring you some insight. But not inner peace.

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/05/joss-whedon-commencement-speech-transcript-2013-wesleyan

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Summer: this changes everything

I recently joked with my writer friends that in a couple of days I'd be done with teaching and be a real writer for a few months. I wasn't really joking. During the school year I am so busy, I rarely have time to do anything in depth when it comes to career building, composing, networking, etc. I think that's why I have a lot of Twitter fiction published August through May: it's all the attention span I can give outside of school.

So as I sit on the cusp of a brand new summer just brimming with writing possibilities, what do I want to do? Play video games, read books, do crossword puzzles, do crafts,... ANYTHING except what I've wanted to do all year. Why?

I think it boils down to fear. As writers, we're laughed at as a profession, rejected by agents, critiqued by our fellow writers, and if we DO get published, our loving audience often rakes us over the coals for some small slight or grammar slip. Who in their right mind chooses to pour their heart out on a page and wait for the vultures to descend?

Those who have stories that demand to be told. Those who have built up a thick skin. Those who sacrifice personal time, TV, and sometimes clean houses just to get that last chapter typed in. We're a little crazy. We're sometimes a little socially awkward. But we're writers.

This summer is gonna be a great year in Cannon publishing history. :-)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Stagnant pools of dead fish stink

Growing up, one of my strongest scent memories is that of stagnant pools of dead, rotting fish. Since my parents took me on most of their fishing trips, I encountered a lot of dead fish one way or another. Those little cut-off bits of water were fascinating to me because of the variety of plants, insects, and general stuff that collected in them, but they STANK! And if you touched them, you stank. If you wiped your hand on your shirt IT stank. The rocks, the plants, your shoe, anything that touched it stank. The stank was contagious and something my mother was always warning me about. I didn't understand as a child what she meant, except she didn't want to sit with a stinky kid all day. Which is understandable. But I think she meant something more.

When you get in some private time by yourself, perhaps to recover from an injury, rest from stress, or focus without the world interfering, this can be a good thing. We writers especially need some alone/focus time to devote to our craft. But if we spend too much time alone, we begin to stagnate. Our water of humanity stops flowing new life into our little pond, and our fish begin to die. It's hard to live in the real world sometimes with all its pain. It's frustrating to see friends and family go through crises and not be able to help except pray and provide a shoulder. The longer we stay in our safe little place, though, two things happen: we start to care less for people and we become stilted writers. I don't

There's already enough stank in this world. As a natural introvert, it's hard for me to come out of my pond and explore, but I know that's the only way to make myself a better person, make my little corner of the world a little better, and be a better writer. I don't want to be part of the stank. As a revising goal, this will take a lifetime, but, hey, isn't that the point?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Who am I as a writer?

Revising who I am as a writer was never a question until lately. I've always been a storyteller. Stories require words, usually many words, but only as many as are required to tell the story. I've always resisted being a poet as opposed to being a storyteller, first on the premise that I hated poetry (which isn't really true. I just hate BAD poetry, which there is a lot of!) second that I wasn't a good poet (what do teachers say about practice, hmm?) and third for some reason I couldn't quite put a finger on until just recently.

Without going into gory details, life happens: feelings boil over, bodies fail, and you find yourself at a point in your life where you're dealing with emotional and physical issues that are literally life-changing. I have found myself lately unable to deal with these very personal issues in story form, but instead, they reveal their coping strategies to me in verse. Verse? Poetry? Huh?

You see, for me, poetry is a very personal, very visceral thing. It cuts to the core of who I am and reveals not just my heart, but the atoms that hold me together. I have no characters to hide behind, no plot to re-direct the reader, no scenery to distract. It's. All. Me. And when it comes to poetry, apparently I have intimacy issues with my readers. If you laugh at my story character when he's supposed to be serious, I can take that and re-write it, no problem. If you laugh at my poetry when I'm pouring my life-blood into your hands because it hurts too much to keep it inside, then, we have a problem, Houston. Yeah. Intimacy issues. Thought I was over that a LONG time ago. Guess not.

So my revision issues now are to try to allow myself to take up poetry as an expression, first, then second, (and more difficult) allow others to read it and help me revise it to the point it's good enough to share with the public. Definitely a cold dish today, folks. Possibly even frozen. Where's the defrost setting on my microwave?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Life is revision...or should be

Some people are a little unforgiving when it comes to life revision. When they make a judgement about you, they think you are that way forever. While it is true, I believe, that at the core there are some traits that stick with us all our lives (selfishness, greediness, etc.) I still think we can overcome those. Just because we THINK with those baser thoughts first off doesn't mean we have to ACT that way.

It worries me that so many of our children see adults that never learn this. They act on their first thought, never considering that old adage, "Think before you act." Or as the builders say, "measure twice, cut once." These "reality shows" are changing our perception of what adults should act like. There's a reason I don't have cable or watch much TV. I believe we should be trying to better ourselves. Revising our lives. Not in a deceptive way to try to fool others but in a positive way to become a better person and make the world a better place. Revision in writing is hard. Revision in life is even harder. That doesn't make it any less worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Vows...Gotta Keep 'em

Okay, so I fell off the blogger bandwagon. Again. I claim teacher disability. Not that I'm disabled, but that my involvement in teaching disables me from writing on the side as much as I want. It's an excuse, but also a good reason. I also need sleep and exercise otherwise the poor dears would be in danger of hearing me yell all day and I would be in danger of losing my job. I'm not THAT ready for the free-lance market, yet.


Just returned from the Missouri Writers' Guild conference with a great deal of success and heartache. Success in that our Southeast chapter won a great number of individual awards as well as winning Basket Wars. Heartache in the sense that after pitching my novel three times in a row (what were you thinking?) I got a massive migraine and was bed-ridden for the rest of the day. This meant I missed GIVING MY PRESENTATION, all but one of the Saturday breakout sessions and missed the banquet. Sigh. Such is life, but let's just say I'm not going to do that to myself again.

So, vow #1 - not going to pitch three times in a day and plan on doing anything else. No, scratch that. Not planning on pitching more than one time in any day. Let's just be reasonable about this all around. (I know, I know, why start now, but I am getting older. That means wiser, right?)

Vow #2 - I really need to keep this blog up-to-date. I do a lot of updates on FB, but I should do them here instead. Keeps everything organized.

When my certificates for my winning stories come in, I'm going to dress up in my get-up I'd picked out for the MWG banquet and take a picture and post it here. Late and after the fact, but still accurate.