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: 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:  (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: 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 and/or Clarion West 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.