Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

When Piggy Flies

 

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Copyright © AirlinePilotGuy 2014

Today I attended a memorial service for a 17 year old who was taken unexpectedly.  I didn’t know her, but she and my daughter played for the same volleyball club and she wanted to be there to support her coaches and teammates. She was a person I had seen but never spoken to, a volleyball player that played for another team, a stranger.  

As writers we develop characters by giving them idiosyncrasies, goals, likes and dislikes, and flaws.  We make them memorable by their uniqueness. Today, I got to know a young woman with a “god awful” diet who favored McDonalds and 7-11 slurpies and some kind of peach sticky candy. They called her ‘Piggy’ because of her love of food and the chubby legs she had as a child. She shared a fondness for double-stuffed oreos with an unsuspecting uncle who opened his bag to discover she had eaten all the insides and left him only the cookie ends. I heard about her plans to attend college with her best friend and make the most of their time there, though not attend “any college parties”. Her competitiveness and “I’ve got this” attitude were mentioned by many, as much as they spoke of her generous spirit and contagious laughter. Can I get a “hoo-yah?”

She became real to me. She became one of the characters from stories who stay with us long after we have turned that last page. 

She was unique, memorable and inspirational. 

I have been stuck in survival mode for the past year for too many reasons and I have questioned whether I would ever be able to write again. But as I listened to the pastor talk of God’s plan and her friends and family speak of making the most of the time we have, I found myself feeling something I thought I had lost. Story ideas percolated and I felt compelled to pick up the pen again. I wanted to write.

I didn’t know her, but her gift for inspiring others continues beyond her short life.

Rest in eternal peace, Christine “Piggy” White.

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Permission to Fail

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 10.00.45 AMIt was not a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I spent the day at my daughter’s volleyball tournament. Watching them lose. Every. Single. Game.  The only upside was knowing we would be leaving early, getting home before dark.

Their first game they played the #1 team, a group of very talented and respectful players who won quickly in an “easy game”, according to one of the parents I overheard.

Humiliating. Embarrassing. Sad. Discouraging. All words that could describe that day for my daughter’s team.

They could also describe the struggle a writer friend of mine is currently having.  Embarrassed after having announced her book deal to the world, she now has to tell everyone it won’t happen.  Not because of anything she did. It fell through due to an unexpected merger of two publishing companies.

But if we define winning by only the games won or the books published, we miss out noticing the real victories.

I saw a losing team play as a TEAM. They didn’t turn on each other when one of them made a mistake. They patted each other’s backs, said its ok and returned to playing.   They worked together, encouraging each other. There was noticeable improvement from the first game to the last. One girl who barely moved in the first game to get to the ball was diving for them by the end of day. Instead of losing by several points in their last game, they scored 9 points in a row to come within one point of winning.

And when one of her teammates blocked a shot, aced a serve, or returned a volley when no one else thought they could, there was a celebration – hugs, cheers, and huge smiles. Real joy.

Despite all the points they scored, the girls on the #1 team never really smiled.  While they may have enjoyed their wins (who wouldn’t?); there was no joy on their faces. It was like they had no choice but to win. They didn’t have permission to fail.

It’s not the final score, not even the publishing contract, that we should focus on. Its the fact that despite the disappointment, the losses, the embarrassment, they keep trying.  My writer friend hasn’t given up. She has two other novels being considered by agents.  She’ll keep writing. And those girls, they won’t give up. They’ll practice. And one day they may win. Or they may not. They are still winners, regardless.

The Unfinished Glass

I have been remiss.  I have allowed other responsibilities crowd into my writing time – work, grade school, divorce, kidney stones (not mine), more work.  I haven’t been writing.

This weekend came at the right time – two and a half days in Narragansett with my writing sisters to find my way back to writing, write, walk on the beach, find sea glass, and relax.  IMG_2925

Waking at 4:00am with a migraine and spending the next three hours praying to the porcelain gods was not part of the plan.

Thankfully, my sisters took care of me and didn’t kick me out – they only quarantined me to the downstairs bathroom on the chance it wasn’t because of the migraine.  I was feeling well enough by noon to go for a walk on the beach.

The writing was still not getting done, but at least I could find more pieces for my sea glass jewelry business*.  A successful search for sea glass requires a combination of intent, strategy, and luck – much like writing.

First, there’s intent, setting a positive mindset that allows you to see what others walk past without noticing – I will find the sea glass (the words).

There are places along the shoreline that have a greater chance of producing those small bursts of color gems.  You go where you know you will find them , those small rocky patches in between stretches of sand. It’s that place, like your writing space – that little cherished nook where you know the words will flow. Sometimes you need to just sit still and breathe, wait and clear away the thoughts that block your view (your flow).

Unfinished glassThen, there is the guiding force of luck. Luck guided me towards this large blue piece, a rare find.  But it’s edges were still sharp and the bright blue had yet to turn into the mottled, frosted hue. I knew could take it home and tumble it myself, but that would be denying the process. It needs to simmer, like some stories, and tumble around some more before it’s ready. I tossed it back into the sea.

It takes time for the ocean (the writer) to take a shard of glass (an idea), toss it, tumble it, break it up (the writing) and transform it into a polished piece of sea glass (the published novel).

It takes thirty years for sea glass to properly form and about ten years for a novel. I’m only on year five, the process on-going. But not so much this weekend.

My generous, compassionate writing sisters allowed me to forego a specific writing goal this weekend – no word count, no set number of pages. However; they insisted I write at least a haiku:

4AM on knees
to porcelain gods I pray
gods have spoken: rest

 

 

*www.whimseacreations.etsy.com

our flaws, our strengths

“Do you grind them?”

The question threw me. It was my first craft show, first time selling my pieces of sea glass jewelry and she was a veteran. Was I doing something wrong?

Should I be grinding the sea glass? Smoothing out those rough spots, the dents, the imperfections? Would I sell more?

No.

Carved from the same tumbling sea forces, nature took what was discarded trash and created art. There are no two identical pieces of real sea glass.

The imperfections speak of their uniqueness, give them their beauty and strength.

Make them memorable.

Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull. W. Somerset Maugham

The same applies to the characters in the stories we love.

Would we have been so fascinated with Katniss if she weren’t so protective of the ones she loved?

Would we still be crying out “Oh, Mr. Darcy!” for another hundred years if he and Elizabeth did not let their pride keep them apart.

Flaws serve to add depth and conflict, establish empathy, and make the character more memorable. MJ Bush, WritinGeekery (www.writingeekery.com/flaw/).

I keep my sea glass just as I found them along the shoreline, flaws and all.  Those flaws inspire the design and I let them guide me into creating something beautiful and unique.

And as I revise (yet again) my middle grade novel, I am focusing on my own characters’ flaws and how their imperfections will shape and guide the story.

If only I could see my own flaws as my strength…

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie – In Memoriam

My Great Aunt Tillie passed away last night at the age of 100 years.

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Aunt Tillie (in red)

She was not the typical sweet, old little lady.

And thank the stars she wasn’t.

Quick-witted and cantankerous, she spoke and did as she pleased, without caring much for what other people thought.  At my cousin Kathy’s wedding, she mortified my grandmother by dancing with a plant atop her head. She went to church and Bingo every week, sometimes driving 80mph to get there on time.

I just had to write about her.  One of my novels-in-progress, tentatively titled “Rotten Tomatoes” has 13 year old Haley reluctantly moving in with her Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie:

Her garden takes up nearly a third of the backyard. Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie grows everything out here, but not everything gets to live.

She said she didn’t mean to hurt any of them. She just meant to scare them. Frighten them enough so they would stop. She never even aimed.

There were just so many of them. Running here and there, going in circles, like some crazy dance. It was all so confusing, she said.

If only the rabbits had enough sense to realize it was Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie’s garden, and not some other, normal person’s garden.

They had been sneaking into her garden and eating the “fruits” or rather “veggies” of her labor. For most people a fence would have been enough to keep the rabbits out. Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie is not most people.

One day she saw some boys in her neighborhood playing with paintball guns. And she got an idea.

She bought herself a paintball gun. The next day, she loaded it up with blue paint balls.

She claimed she never intended to hit the rabbits, just scare them. She didn’t point the gun at any one rabbit. But one particular rabbit was just not in the right place at the right time.

Aunt Tillie hit the poor rabbit with a blue paint pellet, dead on. Literally, dead on.

And what does one do with a dead, blue rabbit? Bury it? Hide it? Throw it in the neighbor’s yard?

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie did none of these things.

Great (not so great) Aunt Tillie made blue rabbit stew.

Aunt Tillie didn’t really make rabbit stew.  Actually, she was very upset about killing that poor creature.  But we can’t help but laugh about it.  And about the many other stories we’ll all share in the coming days.

We joke that there’s an Aunt Tillie in every generation of our family. My brother has already deemed me heir.

I hope not to disappoint.

The Toilet Test

My gym buddies and I have a way of determining whether a workout has been effective. We call it The Toilet Test. The more difficult and painful it is to get yourself up and off the toilet seat, the better the workout.

I recently signed up for the O2X Couch to Summit Challenge (http://o2x.com/summit-challenge/).   Nine weeks of grueling workouts of cardio and strength training followed by a race up Loon Mountain. Nine weeks of sore muscles.

According to Carol Torgan, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “the muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.” (http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-dont-stop-exercising#1)

Stronger and better.  

Rejection letters are the sore muscles of publishing.  

Getting that “thanks, but no thanks” letter is as painful as aching arms and legs. And both offer the same thing: proof you are getting better.  You are working hard toward your goal.

In her blogpost on Literary Hub, Kim Liao recommends collecting rejection letters: http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year. “If you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances,too.”

I’m on Week 3 of the training and so far I’ve received two rejection letters – only 98 more to go.

But first, I have to (ouch) get myself (double ouch) off the toilet…

A Series of Unlikely Events

9497589-bad-luck-road-sign-unlucky-bad-day-or-bad-fortune-misfortune-arrow--Stock-PhotoI haven’t been feeling so fortunate lately. This past month,

  • I injured my back at the gym. The slightest movement was quite painful, so I as unable to attend our annual family party. It will be another year before I’ll see some of the people that did get to go.
  • I ended up in the Emergency Room with jaw pain, dizziness and heart palpitations. Cause, still unknown despite the many tests. (If you are a woman and experiencing this, it may be a heart attack. Go to the ER immediately.)
  • I broke my computer (though I must admit that was due to bad temper more than bad luck).
  • And after committing to finish the fourth revision on what I thought was my unique and original MG novel (Dream Sweepers), I found out that another author is releasing a similar book (Dreambenders) this spring. Too similar.

I am the Unluckiest Girl in the World.

Except I’m not.

My bad luck has revealed how truly lucky I am.

  • I am part of an incredible group of writers who will not only help me reach my goals, but keep me smiling with their encouragement and bottles of wine. One of them even lent me her old laptop.
  • I didn’t have a heart attack and my back injury allowed me to shorten that pile of books I’ve wanted to read.
  • Upon hearing my medical frustrations, a friend suggested the book Medical Medium by Anthony William. I am hopeful that I may no longer have to suffer with the dizziness, mental fog, joint pains, heart palpitations and depression that I have been experiencing for far too long.
  • And while I am still going to finish my original and unique story, I’ve decided to focus on another novel that has a better chance of getting published – a story about a girl who thinks Fate hates her when she has to go live with her eccentric great aunt.

It’s new title: The Unluckiest Girl in the World

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Be someone's hero. No cape required.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a children's author, blogs on craft, news, and the importance of everyday heroes in everyday lives.

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