05/17/16

Rejection Turned Writing Break

 

d6dabc193499b1e8baaaf0884a759743I am currently shopping When A Raven Pecks Out Your Normal to literary agents. I have been rejected 63 times already. The last rejection was the first one that provided me any feedback. Its feedback included some of  what my beta readers tried to hit on but, didn’t quite. But, I’m not sure I can rework anything now with this project that started its infancy — rough outline and lots of thinking about it — back in 2009 and I did the final rewrite and typed The End in November of 2015. In January, I started looking for literary representation.

Sixty-three rejections may seem like a lot. It is. However, I had determined that I wouldn’t quit until at least 122 no-thank-yous filled my email, giving me one more rejection than what it took Robert M. Pirsig to get Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance accepted for publication. In my efforts, last week’s feedback from one agent willing to take just an extra minute and explain their thoughts on my work, although good  – drilling down to the core of why this manuscript is unique and a hard sell, created a feeling of futility in me. I felt like I should just quit. It didn’t matter that this one agent said I was a good writer. I’ll be 50 years old in November and the traditionally published novel evades me. I wrote my first “book” at 8 years old. By 18, and hundreds of short stories and essays later,  I had written my first full-length novel. Today I have probably 30 novels in various states of completion.

However, When A Raven Pecks Out Your Normal was the one that felt like professional-caliber stuff, my magnum opus, if you will. This was the story I needed the world to see. But rejection #63 about killed any energy and motivation I had, even given that it was the nicest of the entire haul of rejections.

In a way, I have quit. Allow me to elaborate. Last week, I lamented in my Sno Valley Writes! blog that I was at that cusp of quitting, and needed some encouragement, advice, what have you, from my fellow writers to keep my writer’s sanity. Truly, I was as close to quitting writing as I have ever come. Many an artist friend responded and told me to not give up. My ever-supportive spouse said to keep fighting. But, none of that was helping.

Then, a good friend of mine, fellow writer, and Sno Valley Writes! member, Sheri J. Kennedy, suggested I take a break. No writing, no editing, no forced morning pages. Just say goodbye to my butt-in-chair attitude on my writing life. She firmly, but lovingly told me to do this until I was rested, rejuvenated, and willing to get back into it. She even gave a nod to that fact that #LifewithAutism has been extremely trying on my patience bandwidth. She keyed in that I needed to give myself permission to take a break. Much like I urged all my fellow writers back in 2008 with the creation of Sno Valley Writes! to give themselves permission to be writers, I needed to give myself permission to not write.Creative-Cycle

But not doing anything as a writer has never been a part of my life. The creative cycle always includes a marker of self-doubt, and angst. I normally acknowledge it, feel pissy about it for a few hours (yes, just hours) and fly right through to loving my writing again. This time has been different. I am at the six-day mark. No writing. No pitching. No editing. No journaling. And until this particular post, no blogging. When that voice said I should be working on The Perthshire Gargoyles, or pitching, or editing Wilderness Rim, I just pulled a Nancy Reagan and said, “No.”

Given that I’ve written this blog post, a seeming necessary step to acknowledging my writing sabbatical, I may be slowly coming out of the writing funk I’ve been in. The key word is slowly. Being a writer in a society that puts little value on art and stories seems a fool’s journey. However, as another fellow writer, Bill Reynolds, said to me, “Writing is not a habit. It’s an identity.” I have identified as a writer for as long as I can remember.

Bill also said, “I once read, ‘we are all writers.’ In the sense that those of us literate enough to write, do write, we are indeed all writers. But we all do not say I am a playwright, an essayist, a novelist, or even a ghostwriter. We may all read, and many of us will say that we are readers, or avid readers. But only a select few of us will identify as editors. Writers will often critique or review the writing of others. In that role, we may say we are critics. One who does art may, or may not, identify as an artist. If they do, they may further qualify as a painter, sketch artist, sculptor, potter, actor, glass artist, illustrator, dramatist, director, or writer. I am a writer, a novice in the fictional and creative art of writing, still-in-all, I identify as a writer regardless of the acceptance or opinion of others simply because that is what I do. It has nothing to do with being published, what I write, how good or skilled I am, what anyone thinks of my writing, my grammar or spelling. The only thing that currently matters is that I write. It is what I am. If you write….”

Bill is correct. I am a writer. I’ll come back to it, eventually. However, the break right now is needed. You can’t write for an entire lifetime nonstop without taking a break. We’re Human. Breaks are part of the deal, whether it’s a night’s sleep, a vacation, even an afternoon nap. You have to rest. That’s where I am right now: Writing Rest.

See you again when I’m done taking a writing rest.

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11/9/15

I Can’t Wear My Uniform Any More

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Can you find this old vet in and amongst the Kurdish villagers of Northern Iraq?

When I left the active service in 2004, I was a svelte and very strong soldier and could easily pass an Army Physical Fitness Test. It wasn’t my best score. I had broken my neck and had a fairly significant spinal surgery in 2003. But, I could pass the APFT. The fact that I also wrecked my pelvis would not be discovered until 2005 with another series of spinal surgeries. My deafness was just beginning. Oh, and youth was on my side.

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Receiving the Thomas Jefferson Award & Military Journalist of the Year Award.

Today, I’m proud I can still drop and give 10, but please don’t ask me to do more than that in a stretch of a day’s time (although yoga is helping me gain some strides there). The VA has acknowledged my ruined hearing, but we’re still fighting for help with the constant pain that my wrecked skeleton produces. I’m not going to get into any PTSD stuff because that’s not the point of this post. But, it’s there, too, albeit I’m dealing with that.

Tomorrow is a community breakfast at our local high school for veterans. I plan on attending, but the question of what to wear was brought up last night. My uniform doesn’t fit any more. My class As are snug and my old BDUs are out of date (servicemembers have gone through multiple changes in the daily working uniform, to the point they aren’t even called BDUs any more) and also are likely snug. Don’t even ask me about my Dress Blues.

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The Chief Engineer is often confused as the Vet.

But, around here if my husband wears my old Army PT shirt, he’s confused as the veteran (his high and tight doesn’t help). When he proudly says that I’m the vet, people still give him a quizzical look, “Your wife?” Head tilt. Although there are more female vets now, we’re still a curious anomaly in many communities, especially small towns like mine here in Twin Peaks. I was hoping to avoid the question of, “Are you here with your husband?”, which I likely would have first responded, “Pardon me,” because I can’t hear many folks so well anymore.

So what to wear? Wearing my uniform is clearly out of the question, but how do I let people know I am a veteran? I don’t have one of those cool Korean War or Vietnam War Veteran Caps. Also, indoors, I’d be taking a cover off, right?

I just packed away my Class A’s ribbon rack. Seriously, my husband just put it into the foot locker in storage with all my other Army memorabilia that I can’t quite seem to shed. Because that was my first thought about what to wear. Given my time in service, it’s a pretty bit of mental jewelry for those who hold those things important any more. The tie pins they give you with the medals and awards is a possibility. I could wear my Meritorious Service Ribbon. Or do I wear my Operation Noble Eagle award? Which one do I hold most important? They are all equally important.

Holding important. That phrase has been running through my head the last week or so since the invite for this veteran’s breakfast came in. What do I hold important about my time in service to my country, my fellow citizens?

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Battle Buddies during some Off time in Germany.

Like any servicemember, I hold important my fellow comrades, those I served with hold a special place in my heart. We can always call on one another for a bit of conversation, to share successes, failures, challenges, and victories. It’s like we don’t live halfway across the country or the globe. Our time together with the target of “some gave all” hanging over us brought us closer than any civilian can imagine.

I also hold important the places the service sent me. It gave me a global perspective so many I know here in the United States do not have, may never. I saw cultures in action that even National Geographic couldn’t accurately capture. I met people who learned that Americans aren’t that much different from themselves and vice versa. It’s the thing that drives my personal philosophy, my parenting, and yes, my writing.198590_1008464774215_2281_n

I hold important that the military taught me to look deeper into myself for reserves I didn’t realize I possessed. Although self-reliance gets a bad rap sometimes these days, it was a great thing to learn when I was young. In my life now, especially given #LifewithAutism, I must dig deep for reserves of strength and be self sufficient and courageous.

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On Border Patrol between Serbia and FYROM

But, mostly I hold important that my time in the service changed me. It changed me in negative ways and it changed me in positive ways. For the most part the positive outweighs the negative. But I am a changed person. Especially as I look back over my decades of service, both on active duty, reserves, and as a civilian employee for the Army. When I gave up my Army Identification Card in 2011 it was one of the hardest things I had to do. I felt like I was giving up a part of myself. And I was. It was time to move past identifying as a service person and simply identifying as a veteran, which I recognize in 2015 encompasses only a small part of the person I am today.

So, yeah, my uniform doesn’t fit anymore. I wouldn’t expect it to. I’ve grown. Hopefully my fellow veterans will just understand that if I’m there, I’m one of them. We all likely have stories of change that our time in service provided. Hopefully that will be the questions, not why I’m not in uniform or that I even am a vet, because, I am. But it’s not all I am.

Tomorrow and Wednesday I’ll honor that part of my life. But then Thursday, it’s back to what life is today, built upon the foundation that my service gave me. No uniform necessary.

10/28/15

To NaNoWriMo or Not

enhanced-buzz-30688-1383087383-0I’m staring at my editing desk, my draft in process of the final revision (dear universe, I hope!), and fighting to free write on a new story, one that I have been wrestling for space in my creative mind for more than a month now, the first ideas of which trickled into my brain about a year ago. However, I am still in the throes of editing a work in progress. A work in progress that has taken me too long to write, edit, and revise. I had hoped to be done before November 1 so that I might join the lovely writers of SnoValley Writes!, the writing community I founded back in 2008, and the Snoqualmie Valley Region for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I didn’t NaNo last year because I was working on this book and trying to get short stories published. Here it is a year later and I am doing the same.

In today’s author market, this means I’m moving too slow and may need NaNo to re-teach me how to get faster, work better with deadlines, and generally write harder.

I always loved the community of NaNo time. However, I have a writing originalcommunity here. We gather weekly. We workshop monthly. This isn’t anything new for me, I haven’t been in the solitary writing wastelands without the nod of another pen monkey. We hang in the local cafes whispering or shouting about sentence structure, tropes, and why science fiction fans are so (insert your own adjective). If I need fresh blood, I can scoot on over to The Richard Hugo House and get classes, more authorly camaraderie. My word-whore community is large and strong. NaNo won’t give me more. If anything, it might overwhelm me.

I have, I estimate, about another 40 hours work on this book before it will be done, done, done. I don’t have 40 hours of time between working on clients’ work, taking care of my special-needs son, and my other household and urban homestead responsibilities. Hell, last night I had great full moon energy and instead opted to read in bed instead of continue to edit (reading is just a much a part of being a writer as writing is).

crazy-nanoThe first time I did NaNoWriMo it was 2005. I didn’t “win” that year because I ended up having emergency spinal surgery (old Army injuries coming to roost). But, it taught me much about the kind of writer I am, that a community is important, and that all those other novels in my writing trunk were like my son hitting the batting cages during baseball season – it’s practice and helps to only further your skills, game, and passion. I was a Municipal Liaison for my region from 2008 until 2011. That taught me about time management, encouragement, and the joy of sharing a nerdom with other people.

My decision this year is do I need any of that, or do I need to finish WHEN A RAVEN PECKS OUT YOUR NORMAL for good? The new story brewing in me may not be ready for even a zero draft. It may deter me away from the prize of shopping the current WIP. Or maybe I can pull a NaNo-like marathon and finish the draft and hit NaNo with all the joyful bliss of a newbie to it come November 1st. I can see the pros and cons of both.

nanoIt will likely be a game-day decision for me.

Are you doing NaNo? Why? What advice would you give to this veteran and struggling writer?

 

 

 

 

01/20/15

Fasting to Honor the MLK Legacy

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Over the years, I’ve been hearing more and more about people unable to do “service” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day do a daylight fast to honor the discipline, willpower, and sacrifice that MLK had to endure in his mission to bring forth civil rights in America. Service to my community is part of my everyday life, and given that I was flying the solo parent flight this holiday, I was looking to observe the day more personally and spiritually. Fasting was my avenue.

I had only liquids – water, mostly. But I did have some tea and coffee, too.  You can’t be the mother of three teens still in the house and not have caffeine. I didn’t want my exercise in honor of MLK to potentially negatively affect my children. I wanted to be an example to them. I wanted the exercise to mean something. I love food. Therefore, a day without eating, felt like a difficult task for me, to mirror, in a small way, what MLK did every day. Not just one day a year.

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I think I did pretty well. The children were all eating leftover pizza at the point in the day when I felt the hunger pangs the most ridiculously – my stomach rumbled like an earthquake was going to erupt down my abdomen. The smell of the crispy, greasy a pepperoni and melted cheese – oh! It was so easy to almost chow down. But, the kids also supported my fast and hurriedly ate and cleaned up their mess.

Then there was the moments of daily life stress that because I was hungry made me feel less capable to deal with the barrage of problems I typically slay quickly in my life:  hitting my head on the garage door, a string of bad drivers as I taxied my children around, the chickens deciding my calf looked like lunch, or when the line at the local café where I was meeting a client seemed to take forever and I was forced to stand in front of the pastry case for seven long minutes (it felt like seven years).

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But I kept thinking about King. What he did when the government treated him as an enemy of the state, how he behaved even though what he was doing was the right thing, not the easy thing, how the legacy of his work still needs more work. I would breathe deep (pulling in those yoga sessions into everyday life), concentrate on my feet on the ground and move forward.

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I did look at the weather app on my phone several times to make sure than when sunset was coming wasn’t changing on me. But then, Dr. King’s words would echo in my head, “Keep moving forward.”

King's home following the bombing. Photo by Arthur Shores (5 Sep 63)

King’s home following the bombing. Photo by Arthur Shores (5 Sep 63)

I also spent time reading about King and learning just how awful the government, the white patriarchy, and even some within his own community disavowed him, berated him, persecuted, and even asked him to kill himself! The entire exercise was for me to feel the primal urges that perhaps King felt when he was maltreated and victimized by the opponents of what he stood for:  justice through peace. How hard did King have to work to move past the animalistic emotion for vengeance and into the spiritual nature that he was so remembered for?  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear,” he said.

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Looking back at his life, my own accomplishments and battles seem paltry. But we all can’t be MLK. It does mean we may live our lives so that his life and work lives on (wow that’s a lot of lives and lives). It means I can’t give up on the battles I have to fight:  #LifewithAutism, surviving three teenagers in the house, and the ever elusive publishing contract, as well as the continued work in civil rights.

My son, proud of my fasting exercise for the day, made me dinner.

My son, proud of my fasting exercise for the day, made me dinner.

At sundown, I could eat; but, I took an extra ten minutes to relish the peace of knowing that humanity is capable of producing great leaders like King, ones whom in the face of unending antagonism, he never faltered. Considering all the good that has been wrought since his assassination, even given that there is more work to do (#blacklivesmatter), we shall all be thankful, and I was. I ended the day in an attitude of gratitude. It produced a dinner made mostly by my son’s insistence and assistance. It wasn’t the healthiest way to break the fast, but I was feeling my blessings and counting them, too.

Thank you, Dr. King.

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01/5/15

Inkster Dispatch:  She’s a hot mess, but there’s still good news

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I have just spent the last 30 minutes searching for a notebook where I had done an idea exercise. I generated about 50 ideas for my blog to tackle this year.

Can I find said notebook?

Nope. I tore apart all the usual places and then some. I can’t find the notebook anywhere. This is another example of how I’ve been loath to completely organize my write life electronically.  But in this instance, I have no excuses. Real life experience is smacking me in the face and saying, “Wake Up, Inkster! The digital age requires your presence.”

My hesitancy is obviously control. But when I think about spending 30 minutes searching for a notebook, can I really say I am in control? Not even.

Therefore, from now on there will be an idea folder in my hard drive, on the back-up thumb drive, and hoisted up on Google Drive.

Speaking of Google Drive, I’m anxiously awaiting the next email from a publisher who accepted my first serious essay. This email will hold a link to a shared Google Drive box for some editorial improvement. More evidence that electronic organization is industry standard anymore and I’ve got to stop being so lazy. Oh, wait. Yeah. I got a piece accepted. The ink is not dry on the contract, so I can’t give any details away, except that I got a really serious essay accepted.

//Happy Dance//

With increased traffic in my write-life, I need to stay organized. I’m getting the message loud and clear. However, it does make me nervous. To have all my ideas stuck in just an electronic file. So, maybe…

No. Don’t do it.

But, why not?

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Why not have a notebook dedicated for my ideas? It can be stored in a file in my desk, clearly labeled “idea notebook,” and then transcribed to an electronic file and then backed up? There’s no reason, save my ability to be disciplined. There’s that word again. I talked a lot about that in my last blog post regarding my write life’s goals and plans for 2015. Yes, friends, organization saves you precious time and it only takes a moment’s effort more to do what needs to be done.

I once read that truly disciplined people are spotted by simply seeing how their shoes are organized.  If they are neat and dress-right-dress in their closet, they are organized. As always, there are always exceptions to the rule, like my friend in college, whose shoes were in clear boxes labeled and color coded, and very much dress-right-dress. But the rest of her place was disorganized and frequently downright messy.  I’m not that exception or the rule.  I kick off my shoes in the general direction of my closet. I didn’t used to be like that. I used to be dress-right-dress, both before and after I got out of the Army. But, once I embraced the artistic lifestyle, there are some things I felt were “unnecessary.” Do you know how long I took to find the mate to one of my shoes the other morning? Another 10 minutes that could have been spent in artistic pursuits. I can write 250 words in 10 minutes. Every minute is lost words.

So in order to be truly disciplined, I know I have to embrace total digital organization. I will, however, have a hard copy. You know, just in case the zombie apocalypse hits us and I’m holed up with nothing else to do but fill notebooks with stories.

Screw it. Just made a new idea notebook.

Screw it. Just made a new idea notebook.

Stay tuned for news about where that piece of mine will be published. Oh, by the way, I need to end this post with a shout out to Herr Chuck Wendig, who told me last year during a Goodreads conversation that I needed to just begin storing up stories – you know like a Penmonkey Prepper. His advice was dead on the bull’s-eye. The compounding of writing things and piling them up to send out is upping my numbers game. If things keep up this way, I’ll have something published each month this year.

It’s a numbers game, friends. Write. Revise. Polish. Send it Out. Rinse. Repeat. Oh, and stay organized.