I’m back and writing fiction again

I am reviving this blog and will be posting regularly about my writing life and overcoming loss.

My last post here was Dec 30, 2010, ten years ago. I cannot believe I let so much time pass. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine I could have written during that time because I lost my daughter, husband and grandson several years apart. Much like David, in my story “Good Game,” I was sinking into despair and grief. I would like to take you on my journey back to writing and living.

A Facebook memory popped up on June 14, where I had written that I was excited that “Good Game” would appear in the July, 2013, issue of Thunder Sandwich. That was the last story I wrote until recently. I had a dream a few days later about my father who passed away in 2007. I believe he was sending me a message of hope and encouraging me toward writing again.

It is fitting to discuss “Good Game” today, on Father’s Day, because David’s character was inspired by my father. In the story, David was a professional bicyclist until an accident changed his life. Paralyzed and sinking into despair, he had to learn to live on two wheels. Again. With the help of his service dog and the enduring spirit of his father.

The character David was a composite of my friend, Jim, who was in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident, and my father. David’s dog was inspired by my late husband and my black lab, Alex. Now, I see a parallel to David’s life and my own. I could not have known back in 2010 when I wrote the story that I would experience the loss of three important people in my life. Or that a dog, my dog Dutch, would play an important role in my recovery.

“Good Game” took a long journey into publication. After being a finalist the 2011 Eric Hoffer Award, it was rejected by 23 magazines before finding its way to print. It was finally the featured story in the September online issue of go read your lunch: http://www.goreadyourlunch.com/2013/09/goodgame.html.

Back in 2010 when I wrote the story, I was proud of it. It was by far my best work. Now reading it ten years later, I see that could have made the story better. First person is hard to write well because we are limited by only the thoughts and emotions of the first-person narrator.  I could have made the story stronger if I brought the reader into the story instead of telling them about David’s experiences. There are a lot of “I” and “my” in the piece.

This is a great article from Now Novel on how to wtite in first person: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/first-person-narrative-7-tips/

I think my current work in process will be even better, due to my writing critique group who help me learn as a writer. The story, “Personal Best,” is an autobiographical piece based on recovering from loss through strength training and exercise. Like “Good Game,” there is a supernatural element.

I am ready to start submitting for the first time in eight years. I feel so blessed to be writing again.

Broken Tail

I’m back after a year of learning how to balance writing while working a high-energy day job –sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. When I am most proud of my work, when I feel the writing is sharp, the characters interesting and the plot flowing, something is always sacrificed: working out, time with my husband, chores around the house–who needs clean clothes anyway, or energy for the day job. After trying various schedules and even abstinence from writing for awhile, I decided to start up this blog again with a different focus: how to juggle it all. But most importantly, how to be happy with the consequences. Can I live with an extra pound or two if I give up my work out to finish a challenging chapter? I have learned to say yes, but not every day. I will admit that I’ve given up too many workouts recently, so I’ll be posting about my weight loss challenge.

I hope that what I have learned about finding balance in the writing life will help other writers. This blog should also help to keep me honest. I have learned that I need the structure and goals that blogging gives me. I think I was most productive as a fiction writer when I knew I would have to be accountable to myself and my readers by writing about my progress on a regular basis.

broken tail
A broken tail-only a Labrador can do it well!

It was a timely weekend to begin this blog because yesterday afternoon Alex (our black lab) broke his tail, poor guy. Harry and I spent the afternoon at the emergency vet in Raleigh. The vet had to give him a shot of pain killer just to be able to examine him. It must be very painful. We learned that there is no treatment for a broken tail. The vet can’t splint it because dogs wag their tails so much. So Alex is taking pain medication and an anti-inflammatory. He’s pretty listless.

BTW, the emergency vet is on Vick St. in Raleigh. That address seemed like bad karma.

Because we lost the afternoon, Harry and I both decided to take some time yesterday evening to write–instead of watching TV. I managed to get 900 words of a new story written and 3 submissions out. I was happy with my progress. That’s where the balance– which is really a euphemism for sacrifice– comes in. I had planned to take a long walk with Alex, but the walk didn’t happen. The writing did. And so it goes.

Farewell

It is finally time to say goodbye to WORLDS THAT NEVER WERE. As my blog posts become more infrequent, I realize that it is time for me to take a hiatus from blogging. When I started this blog back in September of 2006, over two years ago, I intended to post about science and education, a platform for my educational writing. It grew to something completely different as my fiction writing became my passion. My posts turned toward the process of writing fiction.

This blog took me from a novice fiction writer, and I’ll say it, an untalented–or perhaps just inexperienced–story writer, to a novelist who has finished her first young adult fiction manuscript. I think parts of that novel are exceptional, while other sections still cry out “novice”. Still, THE MAGIC QUILT was how I cut my teeth on fiction. I believe my next novel will be better, and the next even better as I grow as a fiction writer.

As I move on to writing my second novel, I will continue to write short stories as my muse hits me. I love writing. I can’t imagine life without it. So even in the face of numerous and sometimes daily rejections, I will continue my journey toward becoming the best fiction writer that I can be. I will love every minute.

May you find your passion, as I have through my writing.

Goodbye for now.

Wordle

This is what I got when I put WORLDS THAT NEVER WERE into Wordle. What fun!

Created by Jonathan Feinberg, Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Taking stock: Beautifying your blog on a budget

Let images do some writing for you. The photo below sets the tone for this post and hopefully sparks some interest.


I grabbed this image from iStockphoto.

I could have chosen any image to use as an example, but this one fit my mood this rainy Saturday morning.

Over on the awesome copyblogger site, Sonia Simone talks about using images to get the biggest bang out of a blog post (while putting in the least amount of work). Wouldn’t we all love to get on with more important stuff–for me that’s writing fiction–not to mention spending time with my husband and my dog.

Sonia says, and I agree, writing a great blog post is a lot of work. There’s the planning, the headline, the writing, the rewriting, the rewriting, the rewriting.

Images are steroids for your headline, you can set an emotional tone and arouse curiosity through pictures. What fun.

Sonia suggests two sources to grab images. The first is iStockphoto, which is my favorite. It has a wide selection of stock photography at very good prices. For a blog post, you can use their smallest size image, which will run you a little over $1 depending on how many credits you buy at a time. I downloaded the picture above from the dollar bin of iStockphoto. I also did a search on “Halloween” and found 15,256 photos to choose from.

Photo by freeparking

The second source Sonya suggests is the Flickr Creative Commons, which is where the non-copyright images on Flickr are found. Each image is available under one of six customized licenses built to influence where and how each image can be used. From the Flickr Creative Commons page, you can enter search portals for each of the six licenses.

I didn’t like Flickr as well as iStockphoto because I found the different licenses confusing. Still, the photos on Creative Commons are free, as long as you credit the photographer. And I found Skellie’s article A Complete Guide to Finding and Using Incredible Flickr Images helpful in explaining the six licenses.

I did the same search for “Halloween” under the Attribution Licensed photos and got 25,550 matches. This license allows you to modify the images (by cropping them, or writing on them, for example) and to use them in both commercial and non-commercial spaces. The only requirement is that you credit the author with a link back to their profile. Other licenses restrict users, for example you can download the images, but not modify them.

You’re forbidden to use Flickr images marked as copyrighted (or “All rights reserved”) for your own purposes unless you get explicit permission from the author. Who has time for that?

Time for me to quit procrastinating querying agents, submitting my short stories and writing new work. Although playing with images was certainly much more fun. I don’t think I’ll get much more writing done today. Harry and I plan on watching some scary movies this afternoon–the rain suggests cuddling indoors.

Thanks to my marketing writer husband for the post title.

JA Konrath

I am honored that JA (Joe) Konrath has linked WORLDS THAT NEVER WERE to his blog: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. There he posts interesting and useful information for fellow writers. Althought the title suggests it is for newbies, I think there is something there for both new and experienced writers. His latest post, Casting Your Net, is about how to take advantage of Internet relationships formed from social networking through blogs, websites and billboards. I learn something every time I read A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and am happy to be included in the blogs Konrath reads.

As previously posted, I also love Konrath’s books. In terms of humor, JA Konrath is the king. I discovered his detective series with star Lt. Jack (Jacqueline) Daniels after reading one of his short stories in a thriller anthology edited by James Patterson. I bought WHISKY SOUR, read it, and then bought the next three books. I laughed my way through all four books, one right after another. I didn’t want to stop to sleep, eat or work. Konrath’s is the only series I read straight through like that. He doesn’t skimp on the details. One killer drove nails into the bones of his victims, one peeled off the victim’s skin, all while the victims were alive. One scene that sticks in my memory is when one of the killers put razor blades into candy bars. The resulting scene after a detective bit into the razor blade was both graphic and humorous. The humor lightens the story and works with the graphic scenes in this series. I’ve just read his latest, FUZZY NAVEL and can’t wait for the next one.

It is obvious that I learn from Konrath’s blog by the number of my posts where I’ve quoted him:
A Good Thrill
Stories Aren’t Buckshot
Write. Edit. Polish–Submit
Milestones

In other news, I have only 25 pages left to edit in my young adult novel–as yet unnamed. It was to be titled KATHARINE TAYLOR AND THE MAGIC QUILT, but I didn’t want it to sound so Harry Potterish, so I was going to call it HIGH TREASON. Harry doesn’t think that is a fun title for young adults, so I’m thinking about it. Whatever it is titled, I should finish this week! I intend to celebrate most heartily. Tip a glass of wine, beer–or whatever you are imbibing–for me.

Signs you are a blogoholic

I was updating my Web site this weekend and as I modified my “works in progress” page, it occurred to me that I needed include writing this blog as part of my “works in progress.” Blogging takes up much of my time and has contributed to keeping me from finishing my young adult novel.

Why? Blogging provides instant gratification — people see what I write immediately. There are no rejection letters and no waiting to get my work published. In contrast, when I work on my novel, I have nothing to show at the end of the day. The document sits in a file on my computer, read by no one but me. Sections of it may be brilliant, but parts are not ready for anyone to read. I’ll have to wait until it is finished and marketed out to an agent to see it in print.

Blogging is different. I can post in just a few minutes and read what other bloggers have to say in that same few minutes. It is a powerful addiction.

So here I sit with the notes for my young adult novel spread over my desk, with the document open to the chapter where I left off. But I find myself distracted and decide to write about spending too much time blogging. Meanwhile I haven’t touched my novel, haven’t moved the curser — it blinks, waiting.

Signs you are a blogoholic
1. You think to yourself, “Am I spending too much time blogging?” And then you blog about it.

2. You find yourself thinking, I can’t wait to blog about this, while brushing your teeth.

3. You can only keep track of which day it is by consulting your blog.

4. You have more blogger friends than real life friends.

5. You find yourself having amazing relationships with people in far-away places like Jakarta, Tasmania, and Scotland.

6. You meet new people, and really resent the lack of an “About” page attached to their forehead.

7. A friend tells you enthusiastically about their new blog and you cringe when they scribble down an address with “myspace” after the three w’s.

8. Your mother doesn’t call anymore, she just checks your blog.

9. Instead of chuckling at humor, you actually say “lol” outloud.

10. Your home computer has a serious hardware failure. You break out in a cold sweat and try to Google for a local repair place.

11. You walk around in a daze because you wouldn’t let something as insignifant as sleep interfere with your RSS feeds. (When you do go to bed you find yourself lying awake wondering if your server is connected).

12. You spend so much time doing blogging tasks that your “real writing” ends up falling by the wayside.

13. You get more “comment waiting for moderation” e-mail messages than spam.
14. Your lifetime goal is achieving a page rank of 10.

15. You keep a blog ideas notepad in your car and you write in it, putting your life in jeopardy on a daily basis.

16. You quit your day job because it is interfering with your blogging. (Money is so overrated).

17. You gain weight because you can’t get away from the computer long enough to do something as insignificant as going to the gym.

18. You clothes don’t fit, but you don’t shop for clothing because it will take away from your blogging time (you haven’t shopped for food anyway, so your clothes will soon fit).

19. Your first thought when you looked at your vacation pictures is which will look best on your post about your vacation.

20. You include ownership of your blog in your will.

21. You finish reading this and go make a post with your own additions.

Blogging is bad for fiction writers

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. ~ Carl Sagan

A new title for this blog coincides with a new focus on the worlds that can be reached with the imagination.

After some soul searching, and after reading an entry with the title that I stole from the Beautiful Stuff blog, I decided to change the focus of this blog.

Here is a small portion of the Literary Friendships discussion between Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon in which they talk about why they feel blogging is bad for fiction writers:

I got sucked into the screaming vortex of the blogosphere. It was incredibly fun, but it’s a bad thing for a fiction writer to do … I decided.

Because one of the things that you do as a fiction writer is … you take the experiences of your life and your memories and you kind of wait for them to gel into something and transform into something that you then write about in a very different way. And when you have this new medium of the web, there’s no gel time — it’s just all liquid. It just all comes out right away. And I was taking all these things, these moments and thoughts and experiences, and just putting them right out there. And once they’re out there, once they’re expressed, they’re gone — I think. I think, for a writer, once you’ve put something down, it sort of both freezes it and expresses it, and you lose it from yourself. And it wasn’t just my memories and experiences.

Back in September of 2006, I needed a break from the long, seemingly endless task of the final edit of THE MAGIC QUILT, the historical fantasy novel that I’m writing for young adults. It is my first novel, and I made several mistakes in writing it, one of which was not doing enough historical research until after I’d written the first two drafts. I kept Paul Revere’s first older wife Sara (she was thirty after all) alive after she had already died, perhaps at Revere’s hand — a topic for another entry. So, I thought blogging would give me a break now and then and I could finish my novel. Now, it is May of 2007 and I still haven’t finished THE MAGIC QUILT, but I’ve managed to write a blog entry every couple of weeks about science topics that I found interesting.

So I have made the decision to focus my blog posts on my fiction and historical fantasy writing from now on. I do love science, and I won’t promise science won’t find its way into this blog from time to time, but I’m going to start writing about my fiction work both as a motivational tool for myself and a way to share the experience with others. Check out the new categories to get a feel for the content that will be posted here.

I’d like to end with the words of John Sandford about writing the first novel in his Prey series starring detective Lucas Davenport:

I pretty much wrote it (Rules of Prey) in a trance. Because I had to work if I wanted to feed my family, I was reporting all day and writing the novel all night. I would walk like a ghost through St. Paul’s skyways, failing to recognize friends and familiar politicians, bumping into posts. I’d lose my car in the parking garage. I couldn’t hear people talking to me; I’d go to political event and make notes on the book.

Here’s to memory loss and bumping into posts.

Reducing the can from comment spam

My blog has a new look because I got up this morning to 48 comment spams, everything from real estate tips to sites promoting drugs to increase my erection – like I need that. While I was mucking around in the blog settings, I decided to give the blog a new look as well.

Why are they spamming me?

Apart from because they can, the need to raise page ranking in search engines gives rise to the need to create a lot of links to a web page so the search engine thinks that page is important. From WordPress’s page on Combatting Comment Spam FAQ.

Because they can. Let’s take the can away from comment spam.

I painstakenly deleted the comment spam — all 48 of them. Then I tried one of wordpress’s tips. I clicked “An administrator must always approve a comment” box and my e-mail inbox was soon full of spam comments to delete.

I didn’t realize spammers were clogging up blogs until now. Upon doing some researching I found that the explosion of blog spam is a besetting problem for the blog industry.

A splog is a “spam blog”, a blog that copies content from other blogs without permission (though there might be a link back), using that content as if it was their own. It’s a little more complex than that, as some mix and match content from many blogs, or mix and match content from different posts into one post. The key to identifying a splog is that the content is not their own, and typically there is no original content to be found.
Splogs tend to have content unrelated to the title and reported purpose of the blog. They also may use content taken from other blogs and stuff their own keywords into the post, promoting whatever they are selling like ringtones, porn sites, drugs, dating, casinos, etc.

For the most part, it is easy to spot a splog, but much harder to get it shut down. Reporting Spam Blogs – Splogs « Lorelle on WordPress

Here’s to reducing the can from comment spam!

Finding Time

As I listen to friends, family and coworkers discuss their holiday preparations, I am struck by the difference in their holiday plans and my own. I look forward to the four days that I will have off work because I intend to use that time to write. Decorations, gifts, traditions, they pale in comparison to the real gift that I’ve been given, four days to sit at my computer and pound the keyboard.

Usually my fiction writing is limited only to weekends. On a typical Saturday, when the phone rings, I don’t answer it. Three loads of laundry rest in the hamper, ready to be folded and put away, another in the washer. I look at my watch and stretch my legs. I’ve been sitting at my computer four hours. Harry has been waiting all morning for me to walk with him around Lake Johnson. If I stop now, I will have time to get my hair cut after we walk. I look at my watch again. Ten more minutes — all I need is ten minutes to finish this chapter — then I’ll get my day started.

An hour later I glance at my watch in horror. My ten minutes have turned into an hour, an hour that I could have spent completing the chores that will have to be done before Monday morning.

We make time for what is important to us. Priorities get done. My passion, and therefore my priority, is writing. Finding time to write means sacrificing something else, something that is important.

Entering “finding time to write,” into Google’s search engine, I was surprised that so much has been written on the topic. I read suggestions like those below:
• Make the time — most people don’t make writing a high enough priority.
• Figure out the best times of the day for you to write.
• Don’t answer the phone or read e-mail.
• Eliminate time wasters like television, videos, opening junk mail, reading magazines and running errands.
• Treat time as an investment, examine your time budget.

I agree. These are excellent suggestions, but time is not the only solution. Last Friday I was listening to the Morning Edition segment on NPR. The authors of Great American Writers and Their Cocktails were discussing their book. One of the authors suggested that writers may drink in order to forget their work so that they can relax at the end of a writing day. Could it be, then, that we need a cocktail to get our minds out of writing mode and out of our imagination?

Following that logic, if we drink in order to escape the imaginary world that we create when writing fiction, how then do we get into that writing mode and into the world of our imagination. A simple button on the menu of our cell phone changes the options. Where is the button for the option of “imagination on”?

As writers, we’ve all struggled with a scene that isn’t working, or a paragraph that is overwritten, dialogue that won’t come together, or worse, the dreaded blank screen. Why? We may have made the sacrifice in order to have an extra hour at the computer. Yet, once there we can’t get into the writing mode. Imagination off.

Right now it is 5 am, yet I am not completely in the mode. Awake an hour before the alarm, I am at the computer, empowered to write, just as I wrote my short story “Pulse of Autumn”. I woke up at 3 am with the story in my mind, already in writing mode even before I woke. I wrote the first draft of the story before my work day began.

I have an hour yet before I need to wake my husband and start my day. I’d like to work on The Magic Quilt, my historical fantasy novel for middle age readers. It is so close to being finished. Only a few scenes need rewriting and the ending needs some revision. Yet, past experience tells me that it will take too long to get into the mode. I need to see my characters, smell Colonial Boston of 1775, and hear the criers as they sell their wares. An hour is not enough time. By the time I organize my historical references to be close at hand, get into a scene, and go back to the past in my imagination, my alarm clock would ring and I would spend a frustrated day wishing I’d had more time.

So I decide to write a blog entry about finding time.

I wrote a sketchy draft of The Magic Quilt when I was in graduate school and then didn’t look at it again during the 14 years that I taught middle school. I never even tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book On Writing, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so The Magic Quilt waited. My mind was on lesson plans and worrying about whether I had put out all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Did I copy the lab handout before I left school, or would I have to go in early and copy it? Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of The Magic Quilt, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. After finishing the second draft of the book, I took a workshop on writing historical fiction books taught by Philip Gerard, an expert on Paul Revere, and found that I had some historical facts wrong. Fixing the history trickled down through the entire novel and I had to rewrite much of the book. Now, The Magic Quilt is finally so close to being finished that my goal for my holiday vacation is to finish her.

Thank you, Harry, for your support.