It’s no secret I’m not a fan of August, so imagine my glee and joy to rip that particular page off the calendar to expose…SEPTEMBER!
Well, not really time for a break because the train really never stops rolling, right?
So what have I been up to?
I’m in the process of updating this site dedicated to my writing endeavors, and Word Webbing for editing. It’s a monumental task, but progress is being made.
I’m always busy with editing projects, which I love. Busy is good. But I’ve also been putting some steam behind certain writing projects. October 15th will see a re-launch of Not Nice and Other Understatements, with a delicious new cover by the incredibly talented Melinda VanLone, a new intro by the lovely Patti Larsen, and some bonus material not included in the original publication. It was time for a face lift Stay tuned for the cover reveal–subscribers to my newsletter on Word Webbing received a sneak peek. *Hint, hint*
It’s my little book that could. Not Nice was recently translated for a Chinese publisher, and I am incredibly thrilled about that.
November 1st, a special, personal anniversary, will see the publication of Still Not Nice, or the Strange Planet Inside My Head. I’m really excited for this.
And, by popular demand, it looks like at some point next year my evil feline overlord, Athena the Hun, will be featured in a volume of our conversations. Yes, we have conversations. Don’t play like you don’t talk to your pet. The difference is for me I’m usually trying to talk Athena out of eating my eyeballs or devouring my soul. She’s pretty evil.
Somebody hold me.
I have taken quite a break from blogging, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing. More updates as they happen, along with whatever happens to pop into my head.
Please note: the website is currently under renovations. Don’t mind the dust. Work progresses as time allows. There’s missing studs and holes in the walls, but we’re getting there. Thanks for your patience!
I have been an indie from the get-go, since I was a tiny person. It’s in my nature and I can’t help it. I’ve always cavorted to a tune it seems no one else could hear; independent to a fault, some might say. It has its ups and downs, pros and cons, highs and lows. During my lifetime, I have been both rewarded and punished for it. I was raised to be independent, and my life’s journey has trained me to be independent.
And while you might be able to teach an old dog new tricks, it’s much more difficult to change an intrinsic part of your personality.
When I started my writing career, it was a no-brainer for me to go independent. I might be a bit of a control freak, and when it comes to my fiction, I want to be the one in charge. After all, fiction has been and always will be a gigantic part of my life. It means so much to me I can hardly bear the idea of handing off something into which I’ve poured my life’s blood and soul to someone else.
But in the changing tides of today’s publishing, it makes good business sense to keep your options open.
I have come to realize everyone’s circumstances are different. What works for one writer may not work for another. I’m not built to follow the road most traveled, anyway, and most of my close personal friends would scream, “HALLELUJAH” to that statement. I have to make the best decisions for myself without looking to see what other people are doing. I’ve lived most of my life that way, and it hasn’t turned out too badly, despite some spectacular failures. Hey, go big or stay home.
I have also discovered if something scares me witless, it’s probably the thing I need to do the most. I live with a lot of fear—but I never let it stop me. I was scared to go freelance when writing non-fiction. BOOYAH. I was scared to dive into fiction. Double BOOYAH. I was terrified to venture into editing. HAH.
So when I contemplated my next business move, I considered sending a novel to a traditional publisher. I almost talked myself out of it. Was I scared of rejection? Nope. Been rejected on several levels, many times. What I am scared of is success.
Which told me I needed to do it.
So I sat my happy ass down and took a few hours to do something for ME. I wrote a synopsis, put together the first three chapters, and wrote a cover letter. As we speak, my little package is winging its way to a traditional publishing house to see what we can see. I’m not even worried if they don’t like it. I’m worried that they WILL.
This piece is very special to me, and so is this day. Today is my kid’s birthday, and a glorious day it was. I won’t bore you with the labor and delivery details; as a friend pointed out to me recently, “Labor stories are women’s versions of the walking to school stories old men tell. ‘When I was a boy, I had to walk seventeen miles uphill both ways in the snow during the summer just to get to school . . .'” and he might have a point. Like, the point of my foot up his ass. Regardless, this piece is special not only because of the subject matter, but because it was the first piece I ever sold. For money. To Sasee Magazine in their February/March 2004 issue. I still have the copy and I still have the check stub.
It was the beginning, but far from the end.
Happy birthday, Donna. You have been a gift to me and many people in more ways than you could ever count. Love you.
Off She Goes
My daughter is getting ready to go to college. How did that happen? The last thing I knew she was three years old with pigtails and rosy cheeks. When I wasn’t looking she turned into a poised young woman. I’m not even a poised young woman! Ok, I’m not young anymore and I must have missed the poised thing completely. You know what I mean.
I just can’t understand how the baby I gave birth to 18 years ago has turned into an adult whom I admire and respect. I want to be my daughter when I grow up. When people meet her and tell me what a good job I’ve done, I feel I cannot take the credit. If she is a good person it is because of her intrinsic values, not because of anything I did. The mistakes are mine; the successes are hers and hers alone.
It is not an easy world out there and very different from the one in which I was raised. She has managed to grow up with grace and dignity and with her values and morals intact. I am amazed!
She is a very special person and somehow over the last year she has become my best friend. Instead of looking at her as a child, I have come to know her as a person in her own right. That is hard to do when I have changed her diapers and wiped her nose; cut up her meat; washed the mashed peas out of her hair; rescued her from her brother and prevented her from killing her sister. That was not the hard part.
The hard part was watching her mourn when her cat Leo died; hearing her cry over disappointments and heartaches from people who professed to love her; watching her struggle against tremendous odds to do well in school for her own sake and no one else’s. The hard part was trying to explain why people are cruel and hurtful and where Leo went when he passed away. The hard part was wanting to take her pain upon myself and knowing that even if I could, it would be unfair. The only way we learn and grow and become better people is through the good and the bad. She has not only learned this but she has taught me much as well.
She has taught me that hope springs eternal in the goodness of people and not to lose hope. She has taught me a sense of humor is the best defense. She has taught me I do indeed have something to offer this world and that my life has not been in vain. That in spite of my mistakes, in spite of the hardships we have endured as a family, in spite of pain and suffering and struggling and disillusionment, cynicism is for the foolish and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I look at her and see that light shining brightly.
I will miss her but she is entering a challenging and stimulating time in her life. She has an opportunity I did not have and I am happy beyond words to know I have afforded her that chance to expand and grow into her full potential. She is my investment into the world, my hope, and my gift.
She is the reason I was born.
I will miss her belly laugh when we watch America’s Home Videos. I will miss her astute observations about people and life. I will miss her mature opinions about the world’s affairs and her unique view of this planet. She doesn’t leave until August and already I am crying and feeling sorry for myself. After all, I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this person and I know I am losing a part of her forever. There will be a big hole when she leaves, and I am being left behind as she moves forward, which is only right and natural. I am happy for her and heartbroken for me.
So off she goes with her Palm Pilot, her hopes, dreams, aspirations and goals. She takes with her that light but she leaves it with me too, and in doing so, it shines all the brighter. She takes with her a sense of humor, integrity and determination. She also takes a piece of my heart, and I am sure, my nagging voice in her ear.
This week, instead of a guest post, I thought I’d share a project in which I participated some years ago. The website is now defunct, unfortunately, but it was a really cool idea. People were invited to submit stories which they related to a certain song. The website was Jams Bio, and while you read the story online the song played in the background. I was actually requested to record this story for the website, which I did. This was the first record I ever owned.
I will always remember the day I found out how men and women have sex.
The funky beat of The Shocking Blue screaming about Venus and the Goddess punctuates my stepsister’s attempt to educate me about the physical act of lovemaking.
“Are you kidding? People really do that?” The Goddess on a mountain top, was burning like a silver flame…
She nods. “See, the boy gets like this. Then, he tries that.” The summit of Beauty in love, and Venus was her name…
I’m puzzled. I’m more than puzzled, actually, I’m morbidly curious and a little bit grossed out, if you want to know the truth.
“It feels good.” She’s got it. Yeah, baby, she’s got it.
“How do you know?” At sixteen, she’s the Goddess of All Knowledge, for me. Every word is Gospel, every pronouncement The Word as I knew it. We sit at the kitchen table in the dingy apartment on Clark Street, windows open to the hot air of summertime. Sissy draws crude figures on my notebook cover; I would study these later, like Egyptian hieroglyphics.
“I just know. Pay attention.” She taps the pencil in the notebook. The 45 spins on the turntable, and The Shocking Blue continues their hymn to the Goddess of Desire. My foot taps in rhythm. I feel the beat in my blood. Sissy’s pencil keeps time.
She drones on, pointing to this part of the picture and that part; I’m singing with the band and imagining a stage, a sparkly dress, a microphone. I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, at your desire…
The music swirls and jives, and I can’t take it anymore. Jumping up, I dance around the kitchen and Sissy laughs. I pull her up and make her dance with me. We shimmy and shake until we’re breathless with exertion and laughter.
Collapsing on the kitchen chair and gasping for air, I say, “Play it again!” and Sissy laughs.
The phone rings and Sissy curls up on the couch to discuss with her best friend how difficult it is to teach a little sister about sex. I ignore the snide remarks and snickering, replacing Venus on the turntable and study the pictures.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me knows I am a Stephen King fan. While there are some of his books I don’t care for, the truth is the man can grab you by the nether regions and take you on a journey whether you want to go or not. He is the epitome of STORY.
“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” ― Stephen King, On Writing
Friday? AGAIN? Where the hell did the rest of the week go?
Busy is good, so a former boss used to say, but at this rate it will be ten years from now next week. No, don’t bother trying to figure it out. I’m confused, too.
I can blame some of it on having a birthday this week, causing a huge rift in the space-time continuum. Or maybe the fact I ate some of Paula Deen’s ooey-gooey butter cake and about passed out from a sugary carbohydrate overload. Damn, but that stuff is evil.
Seeing as it’s the 26th time I’ve turned 29, I think I’m getting good at this. It prompted me to write a short status on Facebook:
You know, one thing about a birthday, especially when you pass the halfway mark, it encourages you to take a good look at where you’ve been and where you are now.
I did that. And you know what? I have walked through fire. Several times. Been burnt to ash, at times with no hope of ever recovering. Of times wishing I wasn’t even here. And when I look at my life now, I am so, so grateful I didn’t quit. I never, never quit. I just kept on going and the result is, I have everything I could have ever hoped, wished, or dreamed of. Two daughters who are the light of my heart. A bubbe who is the joy of my soul. Friends who are the best people I’ve ever met and who are my family. A career that brings me more satisfaction, exhilaration, and challenges than I ever thought possible, a career I love with every last cell of my body.
When I look back, I can see how my journey took me into many dark places, but I can also see I couldn’t have arrived *here* if I hadn’t been *there*. As painful as it was; as close to the brink as I have been, it was all worth it. It was all worth it because today I am the happiest I have ever been.
I am a blessed and grateful woman. In spite of Paula Deen trying to kill my pancreas yesterday.
I had an absolutely amazing birthday. We’ll put that in the WIN column.
Also this week I started a class at Coursera and it’s been fabulous. Go ahead and take a look. Some interesting courses and subjects from universities all over the world–I have a feeling me and Coursera are going to have a long and fruitful relationship.
And last, but not least, I have discovered Windows Movie Maker and fun like this should be illegal. I actually made two book trailers and it was a blast.
All-in-all, it was a Very Good Week. Wrap it up, I’ll take it.
Full disclosure: When I was setting my calendar for guest posts, I noticed this particular date. Not that I wanted to notice, because this date has come around a number of times I’d rather avoid counting. I almost skipped it entirely. But then, I thought, who better to post on this day than my own kid?
I should have known she was going to make me cry. Rotten kid.
Read and Return
Today just happens to be Annetta’s birthday. Shhhh, don’t tell her I’m the one who spilled the beans.
Of course, being her birthday made me think of gifts and gifts made me think of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received and that’s when I realized my Mom has given me everything. Absolutely everything.
When I was about ten years old, I remember Mom walking up to me and saying, “Follow me.” I asked where we were going, but I got no answer. She lead me up the stairs, all sixteen of them, into her bedroom and in front of her massively huge bookshelf without saying a single word. This bookshelf went from floor to ceiling and was as wide as half the wall. Every inch of the thing was covered in books. Double rows of hardcover books, stacks and stacks of paperbacks. To me, a mere girl at the time, it looked gargantuan and totally awesome. I remember thinking how lovely they smelled. The sun was shining in through the window and I saw little specks of dust floating on the air. But there was no dust on these books.
I followed her instructions, and I loved the book. It’s a collection of fairy tales that are unique and wonderful. When I was finished, I brought the book back to her and she said once again, “Follow me.” Upstairs we went, into her room, to the gigantic bookcase where she took the book from my hands and promptly placed another one in it. She gave me the same instructions–read and return.
I don’t remember how long that exchange went on before I started picking my own books, but since the day she handed me that first yellow book, I can not remember a single day where I’ve not been reading. That moment turned into a constant chain of books for me, one right after the other, and has continued for almost twenty years.
When I hear parents tell me they wish they could give their children everything, I tell them this story. You can give your children everything and so much more. The gift my mom gave me is endless, bottomless, boundless. There is no world I cannot explore, there is no character I cannot meet, there is no time period I cannot visit, there is no hope or dream or idea I can’t experience through the written word. She opened every door for me, and through that door is everything.
Do you want to give your children everything? Give your children books, people. Give them a love of reading. I can think of no better way to enrich their lives. And I know there is no other way to give them everything.
That day, which I still remember with such clearness, I was given a wonderful gift, a gift I hope to share with my son.
And I don’t even have to actually give him the book. My mom knew what she was doing.
When I first started writing flash fiction, I was lucky enough to fall into a workshop of writers who were amazing people. They had a profound influence on my writing, and without them I’m not sure where I’d be right now in my writing career. Workshops are tricky things–they can make or break you as a writer. I learned so much from these generous and talented people, and that’s a debt I will never be able to repay.
In between workshops, I ran across a book titled Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. The blurb under the title reads, “The key elements of a writing workshop; clear instruction, illustrated by contemporary and classic works, innovative exercises and methods to gauge your progress.”
It’s one of my favorites of the writing books in my library; I’ve had it and used it for close to fifteen years. The exercises are excellent, with chapters on sources, setting, character, plot, POV, dialog and scene, beginning and endings, description and word choice, voice, and revision. There are 127 exercises in all, and you can take them in a linear way or pick and choose.
Participating in a workshop can be a most amazing experience, but it does take time and effort. And a workshopping environment isn’t for everyone. This book fills the gap nicely, and I highly recommend it for both beginners and old-timers, because while beginners thirst for knowledge, you are never too old to learn something new.
From the introduction:
“As a writer you need a strong sense of independence, of being and thinking on your own–so go ahead, work alone. I will give you a lot of advice, but you need not take it. Especially when you disagree, you will formulate your own principles. No matter what advice I suggest in this book, which is designed to be a fiction workshop you can attend on your own, you ought to write freely. Ought and free don’t seem to fit together, and that’s another paradox of writing: If you can incorporate several writing principles and yet retain and even advance your independence of writing, you’ve got it made.”
Do you have any favorite books on writing fiction? Please share in the comments!
Tristan J. Tarwater has one of the coolest names ever. But even that doesn’t encompass the coolness of the Tarwater. She is one of the champions of indie efforts in just about every aspect of creative endeavors you can think of, including but not limited to writing, comics, gaming, perfume, jewelry–there are few who are as dedicated to the indie cause in so many ways. She’s also mega-talented and I really enjoy seeing what comes out of that unique mind of hers. Plus she can kill you with her sense of humor. Tristan is one of my Favorite People, and you’ll see why when you read her post.
I was going provide a write up, explaining this skit which is a response to certain people’s reactions to African-Americans being cast in The Hunger Games, but I think the skit speaks for itself.
All of you who consume media, I hope your palates are expanded this year. All of you who create media, I hope you realize the scope of experience out there, the commonality of our emotions and that you bring truth and not typecasting forth from your minds.
Scene: Like the restaurant from Sesame Street. You know what I mean. Tablecloths on the tables, waiters wearing uniforms and clean aprons. A Diner, a white male somewhere between 25-40 years of age sits at a table by himself, drinking from his water glass. A waiter emerges from the kitchen with a plate of food and sets it in front of the Diner.
Waiter: Here you go, sir. Bon apetit.
Diner: Right, thank you.
*The Waiter leaves to take another person’s order while the Diner places his napkin on his lap. He takes a bite of his food and makes a face of displeasure. He pokes around in his food and wrinkles his nose. As the Waiter turns from their other customer, the Diner waves his hand to get their attention.*
Diner: Excuse me!
Waiter: Yes, sir? Is everything alright?
Diner: Actually, no. I just tried this after my friends recommended it to me and well…it’s…it’s not what I was expecting!
Waiter: In what way?
Diner: Well, this right here, the…black male? I wasn’t expecting the main focus of this to be…a black person.
Diner: Yes, I mean, I do consume media with black people but usually the taste is more…urban?
Waiter: I see. Did you read the menu?
Diner: Of course I did! It sounded interesting and like I said, my friends love this but…I mean, the Asian person isn’t even a doctor! And I thought these Latino bits would be spicier.
Waiters: I see.
Diner: Overall, I am…really disappointed in this dish.
Waiter: Is it bad?
Diner: No. It’s just…not what I’m used to. I eat out quite a bit and this is just…very different. Not like Mom used to make, you know?
Waiter: Here at Cafe Media the chefs are always trying new things to open the palates of their diners. It’s our hope that by combining our ingredients in different ways, we might expose our clients to new possibilities and to the realities that many people actually do experience and face.
Diner: Well really, I just came here for my lunch hour and…I was not expecting this.
Waiter: I see. Would you like me to take it back?
Diner: No…maybe if you could bring me some ranch dressing, I can just throw that on top.
Waiter: Of course, sir. *the waiter nods and leaves*
Tristan J. Tarwater is the author of The Valley of Ten Crescents series and Botanica Blues, as well as a contributor to the RPG site, Troll in the Corner. When she’s not building worlds inhabited by all kinds of nutters she finds herself momming, housewifeing, putzing around on Twitter and playing with perfume. You can find out more about her at Back That Elf Up or on her Facebook.
Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon is a treasure trove. It’s a rare week when I haven’t cracked it open a number of times.
On “Deep Listening”:
“The ear rarely deceives. You can see–read–your story and not catch many errors. However, if you listen to your story, you’ll hear clunks, hisses, and coughs. Yet, there is listening and there is listening. As you know, it is possible to hear without really listening, either to oneself or to others. Developing the perspective of inside-out revision means tuning inward, trusting your own sense and intuition as you read your story silently or aloud.”