Category Archives: Memoir Monday

Memoir Monday, May 29th, 2017

TItle

Tomorrow is an exciting day for me. The only items on my agenda are 1) take my trash and recyclables to the transfer station (Norfolk’s fancy name for the town dump); and 2) write.

Not only do I have copious amounts of free time, but my only company for the day will be canine companionship. Considering the three dogs I’ll be with are the inspiration for my middle-grade book Top Dog of K-9 Academy, I think I’ll be in good company.

Kelly with dogs

Tobey with bowl

I have a lot of different writing projects I could work on, including my aforementioned middle-grade book, as well as another middle-grade book I finished the first draft of this past December, and several picture books that need revision. I also have a nonfiction picture book I’m doing research on regarding therapy llamas (who know they could be such a wonderful companion and therapy animal – which is why I want to tell the world about them) and I have a children’s story that someone in publishing told me could make a good magazine article, so I need to investigate publication possibilities for that.

Llama

Since I am always optimistic with my time, I’m going to focus on the revision of Top Dog and believe that I will finish the entire revision in one day. We’ll see. But on a positive note, I already have the first six chapters revised, so only 25 more to go.

Realistically, I’d like to have the complete manuscript revised and ready for submission by June 10th, which is the date of the next writers’ conference I’m attending.  This will be my fifth writers’ conference since I started taking my life dream of being an author seriously.  The first one I attended was in November 2014 and it was one year later that I told myself I was not going to attend another writing conference until I had a book finished.

At the time, a friend of mine recommended that I meet up with her at the North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference and I flat out refused.  I had decided that I needed to put all that I had learned thus far about fiction writing and children’s writing, in particular, to good use and it was time for me to actually finish a novel.  I made a promise to myself that I was not going to attend any more conferences until I had something to pitch to agents or editors in the event I randomly struck up a conversation with one of them somewhere.

It only took me a year and half to make good on my promise. Pretty good, I think, considering it took me eight years to finish my PhD program (although I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy the ENTIRE time). I also like to remind myself of this accomplishment whenever I feel I need a boost with my writing life.  I have to remind myself I haven’t been at this for too long in the grand scheme of things and I’ve come a long way.

I also like to remind myself that I went from being single to married in only three weeks.  Just like that, my whole life changed for the infinite better and my dream of finding the perfect partner came true.

Wedding!

When I think about how this can happen with my writing – maybe it will be today, maybe it will be tomorrow – an agent or publisher will say the magic words of book contract, I get giddy with the possibilities of the situation.  Because, honestly, I cannot imagine a better husband than the one I sat down next to that fateful night when we randomly met at a restaurant bar I had never been to before, so I can only imagine what’s going to happen when this publishing dream of mine comes true.

I’m already looking forward to telling you about it….

Memoir Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Friend

On Saturday, my niece and I said hasta pronto to my husband who we dropped off at the Stewart International Airport for his birthday trip to Guatemala.  One of his goals this year is to become fluent in Spanish and when a local Norfolkian recommended a Spanish immersion program in Antigua, I couldn’t resist surprising him for his 34th birthday.

Heath and Jori Fixed

My husband will be gone a total of 10 days, but on the plus side I get to spend this time with my niece.  She’ll be visiting for the next week and I’m super happy to spend this time with her. She just wrapped up her sophomore year at UT Austin and I am 100% confident that she has now surpassed me in some educational ways seeing as she is a double major in chemistry and economics.

One of the aspects I’m most enjoying about her experience is listening to the sounds she makes while reading books. She just finished Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons yesterday and she cracked me up with her gasps and shouts of shock, surprise, and frustration.

Angels and Demons Cropped

We’ve also been watching season 1 of Gilmore Girls because she is a huge fan and on our agenda this week is to go on a Gilmore Girls driving tour.  The show takes place in a fictional CT town called Star Hollows, but it is based on Washington Depot, CT, and Kent, CT.

I’m not sure how much I’m enjoying the show because I find one of the main characters to have a rather obnoxious and grating personality. She always has a wise crack for every situation and her relationship with her mother is rather tempestuous but it appears to be a lot of her own making.

However, despite the show being on television I feel like I am learning some useful writing techniques for crafting characters. One of the comments I received from two individuals about one of the dogs in my Top Dog book is that he’s bordering on obnoxious.  The other four people who read my pages found him hilarious. So the majority wins, but the former comment still gives me something to consider.

Ultimately, I think it’s a good comment because the main character in the book also thinks this dog is obnoxious, but others think of him as a lovable bloke. It’s good to know I’m reaching different perspectives with the writing of him.

Also, in a pivotal scene in the book, this character then does something thoughtful and gracious and I like how I provided insight into the true heart of the character. The main character also recognizes this and it’s why she can forgive him for his many past deeds.

Yet, I don’t want children turned off by the character so much that they put the book down.  I have yet to say to my niece, “No more Gilmore Girls,” and part of that is because I want to keep watching this character to see if I ever reach a tipping point where I’ve had enough of her and never want to watch the show again. I think that would highly instructive in my own writing and I’m feeling good about the fact that I can “multitask” while spending some quality time with my niece.

I also like that I can get my niece’s perspective on the show and hear about what plot and characters she loves or hates. It’s so useful to have this kind of feedback to then inform my writing process and she’s obviously a brilliant and insightful person. For the record, so is my husband, but the insight of a 34-year-old man is quite different from a 20-year-old woman.

All in all, I think this is going to be a wonderful visit. Lots of pups to love, lots of books to read, one show to watch, and visiting attractions all over the state of CT. So who else wants to come visit? Think of how much you can help my writing!

Smudge and Faith

Memoir Monday, May 16th, 2017

Sugar

I felt rather dismayed when I saw almost a full month has gone by since I lasted posted here. I’m disappointed in myself because when I started this blog in August 2016 the goal was to write multiple times a week, every week.

Right around the New Year, I began to let posts slide. I rationalized that because of the holidays, I could take a break. Then wouldn’t you know it – I let posts slide again. And again.

I’m sure I have “valid” reasons for not blogging and as I’m typing away right now, my brain is telling me, YES! Yes, you do. The writers’ conference that I participated in in late March required me to spend extra time on getting my second book in shape for editor and agent critiques. Then came the revisions, which I’m still working on.

I also just felt so dang tired these past few months. Winter is hard on those of us with sleep disorders. The lack of sunlight made me feel lethargic and the moment it turned dark outside all I wanted to do was read in bed. Then, there was my crap diet that lasted from March 25th, when my husband and I completely lost control at a conference where we had multiple all-you-can-eat meals, all the way to May 2nd.  I can pretty much sum up my diet during that time span as: SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR, zucchini noodle stir fry, SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR.

not-only-did-i-fall-off-the-diet-wagon-dragged-19642228

No wonder I’ve been so exhausted and I’m pretty sure I have a sugar addiction. It’s funny how poor choices in one area snowball into the rest of your life. Poor diet led to increasingly poor sleep, which made me feel tired and was exacerbated by lack of sunlight, so I made even poorer diet choices because of feeling so tired, which then made me feel even more tired and because I’m so tired, I’m then not meeting my writing goals, making me get down on myself, and then I want a DQ Blizzard to make me feel better, and then, oh, what’s that? I’m feeling even more tired and the sugar makes me have poor sleep. Again. And the cycle repeats. And repeats. And repeats.

At the very least I have awareness of this pattern. And (once again) I am consciously choosing to break the cycle. The good news is I have excellent support from my husband, who also has a sugar addiction, and was feeling just as sick and tired of feeling sick and tired as I was.

We are currently on Day 15 of a 26-day diet detox, which banned sugar (including fruit) the first week, and is 90% raw, 100% vegan. Completing this detox will be a truly great achievement for me and, not surprisingly, I’m already sleeping better and I have more energy. That’s how I find myself writing this blog post at 8:00pm on a Tuesday evening instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook to trick my brain into thinking I’m accomplishing something.

So I’m making progress — YAY!

While I finish the remaining 11 days of the diet detox, I’m also going to spend some time contemplating my goals. Specifically, I want a better awareness of the balance between my ambition and productivity. As evidenced by some of my older blog posts, this is one area in the past where I have set myself up for failure by being too optimistic about what I can realistically accomplish. But it’s also something I am keenly aware of and trying to improve and frankly, I’m tired of making excuses for not meeting my own goals.

In the meantime, I am going to give myself a small writing goal. Post this blog tonight and then post another one on May 22nd.  As always, I thank you for reading my blog and for your love and support.

Memoir Monday, April 17th, 2017

Title

After a very long winter with several snow storms and many, cold, dark, cloudy days, I’m feeling more confident that spring has finally sprung in Connecticut. I say this because we’ve had several days in a row of abundant sunshine,

Tobey in Sun 2

the snow has melted,

Faith in the dirt

SMudge Fishing

and I’ve started seeing spring bulbs pop up here and there around town.

Purple flowers

I have, however, been cautioned not to put the snow shovel away because that will jinx the weather and then we’ll most assuredly have snow one more time.

The timing of our spring resurgence here is coincidental with the celebration of Easter this year. My husband and I had a lovely Easter celebration yesterday with attending church, eating a delicious lunch of lamb with mint jelly and spice cake for dessert, and visiting a local farm where I got to bottle feed baby goats (best Easter activity EVER!).

Goats Copyright

But now that Easter has come and gone, that means Lent is over and I can go back to Facebook (which I gave up for Lent). Yay! I think.

One of the things I’ve missed the most about being on Facebook is knowing what’s going on with a lot of friends, particularly the ones that I don’t see on a regular basis. I miss reading about what’s happening in their lives and the adventures they’re taking.

I also miss the birthday reminders and without being on Facebook these past few weeks, I completely forgot to send out some birthday greetings.

Here’s what I don’t miss about Facebook at all: how much of my time it sucks up. Since I posted last week about my obsessive email checking, I have gotten somewhat better with it and several hours will go by where I consciously chose not to check my email because I don’t want to distract myself from the work I’m doing.

One of my worries with going back to Facebook is that this will be my go-to time waster when I’m feeling tired and don’t want to work on one of the activities that align with my goals of being a published writer.  These goals currently include reading middle grade fiction, reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Want to Write Them, listening to The Great Courses – Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes (I’m up to chapter 5 and thoroughly enjoying), plotting the sequel to the middle grade book I finished writing several weeks ago, and working on a book of writing prompts that I plan to offer for free in the near future as a way to build my email list for when I eventually get published (apparently having an email list is a good way to build an audience).

My professional goals are important to me and then there are my personal goals, of equal, if not more importance: eating healthy (epic fails as of late due to Dairy Queen Blizzards, burgers and fries from Wood Creek Bar and Grill, and Dee’s One Smart Cookie sandwich cookies), meditating (doing good with this one thanks to my Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey meditation app), exercising for 20 minutes a day (also doing good with this one and I only missed a few days in the past 2 months), and being a good partner to my husband (although I think I’m doing quite well here, my husband has yet to give me a serious answer).

You’d think it’d be easy, then, to limit the activities that take me away from my goals such as procrastinating on social media and/or checking my email. The thing is,

goals require hard work and dedication, and that’s, well, hard,

especially when a lot of my goal-related activities don’t result in immediate rewards.

It’s so much easier to like my friends’ posts, add a comment or two, and feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. And maybe it is worthwhile to socially engage with my friends this way to let them know I’m interested in their lives and care about them. Some of them I haven’t seen for months and I be seeing them again for equally long times.

I suppose what it all comes down to is balance. Balance is something I struggle with day in and day out, although staying on track has gotten a little easier as I refine what’s most important to me in my life. I know where and how I want to spend my time and at the very least I am becoming more mindful of my choices.

I think this awareness is why I’m so eager for spring this year. Spring (and Easter for that matter) is a time of renewal and rebirth. This season makes me excited that no matter how unbalanced I let my life get this past winter (or in previous seasons), there is now a new opportunity to start over. I can reaffirm my choices to stay balanced and stay focused on my goals as much as possible.

With every new flower I see blooming or bird chirping I can be reminded to do my best. Even better, I can be inspired by the beauty around me to inform my writing and make conscious choices of how I spend my time. Nature is, after all, the ultimate testament to the success of balance. Now it’s just up to me. As always, I remain ever optimistic. Thanks for your support 🙂

Memoir Monday, April 10th, 2017

Time to Wait Title

One of the biggest problems I have with writing is the waiting. Time moves so much more slowly in the publishing world than elsewhere. Examples – agents may take 6 weeks to one year to respond to a query letter; from signed contract to publication can take three years (this is especially true for picture books with illustrations).

Of course, there are always a few outliers – the rare agent or publisher who responds within 24 hours to kindly reject my work – and then there are those who never respond (also a typical practice in publishing) and you’re left in limbo wondering if you should follow-up or let it go.

To add to the tension of this waiting game I’m now playing, I recently attended a conference where I had six 1-1 sessions with different agents and editors. One editor requested the entire manuscript of my Top Dog of K-9 Academy middle grade book (did I mention I finished my second book – only took three months to write the 37,000 words of which I attribute a large part of my success to the outlining method from Libbie Hawker’s wonderful book Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing) and another editor was so enthusiastic, she gave me a list of agents to contact and she said I could use her name (too bad this editor works at a press that doesn’t acquire middle-grade fiction).

As a result, I’ve been checking my inbox at a more than neurotic rate. I haven’t formally documented what that amounts to on a daily basis, but between when I woke up at 5:30am (the first time, that is, then I fell back asleep only to have an incredibly vivid dream about a jaguar breaking into the house and fighting it off to protect the dogs), got out of bed at 6:30am, and began writing this at 11:30am, I have now checked my email nine times in six hours (and for 1.5 of those hours I attended my creative writing group where I did not want to be rude and look at my phone).

THIS. MUST. STOP.

Checking so much is not an efficient use of my time. Mounds of research suggests checking email like this severely impacts productivity. I already know this, yet I do it anyway.

So the question I’m now asking myself is why do I feel such a strong compulsion that I can’t seem to stop it?

Coincidentally, a possible answer came to me just a little bit ago when I took a break from writing this post to exercise (my latest goal is just 20 minutes a day of strength-training exercises; I’ll add in cardio when the weather gets warmer) and I started listening to The Great Courses – Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes.

I’m a big fan of The Great Courses and for those of you interested in learning about the publishing industry, I can’t recommend Jane Friedman’s How to Publish Your Book enough, which I have fully listened to twice now. I’ll let you know about Writing Great Fiction when I finish all twenty-four chapters.

Anyway, here’s what Professor Hynes said in chapter 1 – Starting the Writing Process:

Few things make a writer more anxious than facing a blank page. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner starting your first story ever or if you’re a battle-scarred professional with many publications behind you. Having to fill that blank space with words is almost always a very intimidating prospect. Like any worker faced with a difficult task, a writer can find all sorts of ways to allay that anxiety. These include petty rituals of procrastination, like, say, alphabetizing your bookshelf, experimenting with different fonts on your computer, or sharpening all your pencils to just the right length. Some writers go further, indulging in such self-destructive practices as using alcohol or drugs to numb their anxiety. And ever since the advent of the internet, there’s been a vast middle-ground between these two extremes now that a writer is able to kill almost all his writing time by checking his email, making wise cracks on twitter, or watching adorable kittens on YouTube and calling it research.

Well, duh. I can’t believe I didn’t see this. Now that I’ve finished my book, it’s time to start another one. And what better way to put that off then suddenly being offered a representation/publishing contract where I can then turn my attention and energy to something I’ve already done? Wouldn’t that be the easy way out! I wouldn’t have to think of an entirely new plot, then write it, then edit it and re-write again. I don’t have to contemplate disappointment and failure in my writing process and I can remain blissfully a person who successfully started and finished two books.

Except I don’t want to be a person who just wrote two books. I want to be a prolific writer, writing across different genres and getting successfully published in a variety of different ways.

So I guess it’s time curb my anxiety the best I can and come up with different, more productive ways (other than checking my email) to alleviate it. There’s the obvious of actually starting my next book and yesterday I did start the outline. I’ve also come up with creating new content for my blog, visualizing how I want to brand myself as an author, and always keeping a book with me, so if I start to feel compelled to check my email again I can read a few paragraphs (one of the single best ways to improve your own writing is to read others).

I’m optimistic these strategies can work and I’m open to suggestions for other ways I can re-direct my anxiety in a more productive way. Any ideas?

Memoir Monday, March 13th, 2017

Drop that ball

Oh, I’ll just write my next blog post tomorrow. Well, maybe I’ll wait another day. Make that two more days. Actually, better just to wait until next week.

Now it’s four weeks later and boy did I drop the ball on keeping my blog momentum going. The good news is, I did not stop writing during this time. I just stopped writing my Monday posts. And most of my Wednesday posts. And Friday posts, too. Although a part of me is realizing (not for the first time) I might have been a tad too optimistic in setting myself up to have three new blog posts each week.

It was easy to let my posts lapse, mostly because I told myself no one would notice.  Except someone did notice (no, not my husband). And I’ll tell you what: hearing a friend comment that they read my blog every week and wondering why I had stopped warmed my heart so much it was like I had just drunk a homemade hot chocolate made of Not Your Sugar Mamas dark chocolate (best dark chocolate in the history of time and handmade in Martha’s Vineyard).

I stopped blog writing because I had a February 28th deadline to spruce up my second middle grade book, Top Dog of K-9 Academy. The deadline I was working towards is for the Unicorn’s Writer Conference, upcoming on Saturday, March 25th, at Reid Castle in Purchase, NY.

Unicorn Writers Use this one

Specifically, I am meeting with six different agents and editors to receive feedback on the first 40 pages of the Top Dog manuscript.

This opportunity is HUGE in the book world because I get to sit down with industry professionals for 30-minute appointments and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript. Usually at writing conferences the agent/editor appointments are limited to 10 minutes or less and you simply “pitch” your idea; that is, you tell them the gist of your story and they say yes or no whether you should submit the manuscript for consideration.

With these pitch sessions, there’s no guarantee anything more will come from the interaction.  I’ve only been to one conference so far where I pitched to three different agents, and even though all three asked me to submit my full picture book manuscripts, that was at the end of October and I still haven’t heard anything back.

I’ve also read on several writing blogs and websites that agents consider some aspects of the pitch session to be truly awful. Which I understand. As someone who used to exhaustively critique student research papers for a living, I know what’s it like to crush someone’s dream. In my case, it was a student’s dream of getting an ”A.” In an agent’s case, it’s someone’s dream of getting published.

Given these circumstances, the agent/editor sessions need to be approached carefully.  Some of the best advice I’ve received about my upcoming conference appointments has come from someone who worked in the publishing industry for many years for various publishing houses. She told me not to have expectations about getting an offer of representation, but to instead focus on next steps for my manuscript.

Not having expectations will be difficult for me. I have an incredibly active imagination; in fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m able to write so many stories.  And who doesn’t love to fantasize about their big break?

I have, however, been working on the challenge of letting go of expectations in other aspects of my life for a few years now, so I’m feeling confident I can remain neutral going into the appointments.  As an aside, I credit this step towards enlightenment to my 21-day meditation challenges with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey.  They have a new challenge starting on April 10th.  It’s totally free and I highly recommend it, almost as much I recommend Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate.

Anyway, I’m also feeling confident because I have a lot of faith in my manuscript, and as I further progress along the path to publication I can actually why this story could be published.  Aside from the fact that it’s funny and well-written (not just my opinion, by the way, but my class from the Mark Twain House and the critique groups I’ve been going to are quite enthusiastic), I’ve done my market research and my story has commercial appeal.  Two of the books in Publisher’s Weekly Best Books Middle Grade, 2016, featured animal narrators, and The Secret Life of Pets earned nearly a billion dollars worldwide.  In addition, nearly half of US homes have one or more dogs.  Considering my story features the antics of a pack of dogs narrated by a scrappy mutt named Lilly, I believe there’s broad appeal for this story in a market that is currently trendy, yet not saturated.

I think the fact that I also now approach publishing as a business and not just as a pie-in-the-sky dream to accomplish makes me a strong partner for agents and editors.  I am willing to put forth the time and effort towards branding, publicity, and marketing.

That’s why these agent and editor sessions will be so good for me.  Regardless of whether I end up with representation, my manuscript will be even stronger than when I started.  I will be in a better position to market myself.  And I will be several more steps closer to getting published.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing on my blog.  Most weeks….

Memoir Monday, February 13th, 2016

TItle

I’ve shared this picture through social media before, but given how ridiculously cute it is you can expect me to share it every February 14th(ish) until I die.  I also like to believe that little squirrel created his tree art just for me, but it could have been for somebody else.

Regardless, I can still remember the wonder I felt as I turned around a corner on the Naperville River Walk

around the corner

and came across the little fella scampering around.

squirrel

Then I saw the heart and I could have melted on the spot.  Thankfully it was too cold in Naperville for that to happen, but at least my hands weren’t frostbitten enough that I couldn’t take out my phone to snap a few pictures.

Seeing my little squirrely love note came at just the right time, too, because I was feeling pretty lonely at that point in my life.  I had recently given up my dog, Jack, to my parents in Harrisburg, PA.

Jack

His dementia was getting progressively worse and me being at work for 8+ hours a day wasn’t helping.  I feared I would come home one day and find him in agony because he had eaten something he shouldn’t have.

My parents, in one of the greatest acts of kindness I have ever received, offered to take care of Jack.  They no longer work outside the home, and my older brother also lives with them, so there’d be plenty of people to keep Jack company throughout the day.

In addition, one of my best friends at work had moved on to a new job.  Even though I felt thrilled she was finally out of a position in which she was clearly underutilized and, frankly, not fairly compensated or appreciated for her talents and work, I still missed our daily interactions.  I didn’t have many other close friends where my office was located and many days I felt isolated.

So when I came across this message of love in one of my favorite places, by a cute and furry critter no less, I couldn’t help but smile.  I even sent the photo off to Shutterfly to have it made into a notebook with the song lyrics, Put a little love in your heart and the world will be a better place on the front cover (lyrics by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers, & Jimmy Holiday).

That song had been in my mind a lot at the time.  A local musician performed it at an interfaith New Year’s Day celebration in downtown Naperville and I became hooked.  I honestly can’t say if I’d never heard it before or

if I just hadn’t heard it with my new evolving life perspective that there was a lot more to the world than the little life I was living. 

I ended up playing it on repeat on my iPad many times that winter and each and every time I felt a renewed sense of love and spirit in the world.

I’m very glad I have these reminders about love because as of late, I haven’t been treating myself with very much love.  I don’t know why my narcolepsy seems so much worse these past few months, but I feel frustrated and demoralized that some days my greatest accomplishment is making it downstairs in the morning to feed the dogs.

I then surf the internet ad nauseam because it feels like I’m doing something, but I know I’m not, and so I beat myself up for it – I should be writing; I should be reading; I should be working on my website; I should be doing anything other than mindlessly thumbing through social media to the point where my eyes glaze over and I doze off.

Is this because of narcolepsy or inertia, I can’t say for certain.  But in addition to feeling tired from a disease, I am tired of “shoulding” on myself (perhaps another disease in and of itself).  My husband has very kindly and lovingly pointed out that it’s okay for me to take breaks and maybe I should cut myself some slack.  Why is it that these “shoulds” I am more inclined to reject than embrace?  These are the same things I would tell (have told) my loved ones when they beat themselves up.  I would never let anyone talk to my family or friends that way, yet somehow, I accept it for myself.

It’s a funny situation because when I realize my hypocrisy, I get further down on myself for not remembering to be more enlightened.  It seems like an endless patter, until I finally reach a point where I remember that violence in any form, which to me includes emotional bullying, sarcasm, and insults, is unacceptable.  And the way I mentally beat myself up is violent.

This recognition is a good thing because above all I want to be a peaceful a person.

And if I can’t be at peace with myself, how can I expect to contribute peacefully to our world? 

I put a little love in my heart and I try to remember how much I have to be grateful for, as well as remembering that you never know when you might turn a corner and find something so wonderful you didn’t even know to hope for it.

Memoir Monday, February 6th, 2017

Gotta have faith TItle

I met a yellow Lab named Lilly today.  Coincidental because the canine protagonist in the second middle grade novel I’m working on is a yellow dog named Lilly.  Not a Lab, though.  The Lilly in my book is a mutt and she’s based on one of the dogs we’re taking care of in Connecticut.   All four of the Connecticut dogs we’re taking care of are in the book,

Blog-10

but for some reason I took a liking to this scrappy little one (she’s on the left) for the story and decided to tell it from her perspective.

I like to think it’s a good sign I met Lilly today because a lot of times with my books I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back.  I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on this story; particularly with dialogue and humor.  The feedback is coming from my writing workshop at the Mark Twain House.  The women in my other writing group were also eager to know more as I read them chapter 1.

This past weekend, I took the first 10 pages to a critique group I found through meetup.com.  I attended one of their critiques a few weeks ago, and I found it incredibly helpful with revising my first middle grade novel.  Despite having taught research writing for many years and being a successfully published academic author, everything I know about fiction writing is self-taught, through reading writing books, attending workshops and conferences, perusing writing blogs, and reading as much fiction in the genre I’m currently working on that I can get through before falling asleep (yes, I’m still not sleeping well).

What this means is that even though I have good writing skills technically and even though I consider my imagination and creativity two of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received (they’re from God, if you’re wondering), I still have some ways to go with learning to write fiction. 

That’s why critique groups that can provide me with feedback on the craft of writing are so important to me. 

Although I love my family and friends telling me how they enjoy my stories, I’m in this for the business of publishing and that requires a whole other perspective when critiquing writing.

On Saturday, I felt excited to the point of giddiness as I drove the 80 minutes to get there.  I prepared the first 10 pages of both my books – one for their morning session and one for their afternoon session.  I started with my first book and … got the same feedback I got the last time I read it to the group, even though I had substantially revised it.  Of course, I received excellent feedback about the concept, writing style, and voice.  But I spent a lot of time last week on the revision and in that moment, I felt like a lot of that work was for naught.

I felt much more optimistic with my second set of pages.  This book, the one about Lilly, I plotted out in its entirety from beginning to end.  The different story beats are spot-on and I have a good grip on the personality of the characters.  That clearly comes across in the writing, as both my writing groups have attested.  And even in this critique group, the very first comment after I finished reading the pages was how well written they were.  Then came the areas for improvement; well, there was just one really which ultimately is a good thing, but it’s a doozy in terms of underlying story: there are no high-tension stakes.  For middle grade novels, I’m learning that the conflict pretty much needs to be shouted out from the very first paragraphs.  I thought I had done that.  Apparently not.

I felt disappointed, which I know is silly because I want and need the feedback.  It will make my writing and storytelling stronger, which in turn will make it so much easier to secure an agent and then get a book contract.  I wish I didn’t have to keep reminding myself of these facts, but I do.

It’s also not easy to delete story and plot lines.  I created these stories.  They are my imagination and my words put out into the world for all to read and enjoy. 

To destroy them is like destroying pieces of me. 

No one prepared me for how difficult that would be.

Yet, I will continue writing and I will continue to seek ways to improve my work.  I have a lot of stories to write and I’m committed to writing them.  That’s one of the reasons I quit my job and that’s why I write every almost every day, even when I feel exhausted.  It’s also why I take it as a good sign that I met a Lilly dog today.  I have faith that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  It helps to believe the universe thinks so, too.

PS – for anyone wondering where my latest chapter of Fox Through the Forest is, it’s still percolating.  I’m hopeful to have it ready for this Friday.

PPS – The dog in the photo is appropriately named Faith.  She’s the dog that inspired the character of Lilly.

Memoir Monday, January 30th, 2017

Enthusiasm Title

I opted to put off writing this blog post yesterday because I was immersed in the book The Sun Is Also a Star, a young adult book written by Nicola Yoon.

Sun is also a star

That’s the official reason.  The unofficial reason is I’m still plagued by lack of quality sleep and it’s now taking over many facets of my life, including motivation to do anything other than lay around and pet the adorable dogs I’m taking care of.

Dogs

It’s a good thing they’re so cute because they make me smile even when I feel so exhausted.

Officially, though, I found this book to be an incredible and compelling read.  It’s the sort of book that makes you wonder just how the author managed to weave her magic of words, imagination, creativity, and plot together to come up with the story she did.  It doesn’t surprise me the book was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.

One of the down sides of reading a book of this nature is that I can’t help but make comparisons to my own writing.  What results when I do that is an odd mix of irrational jealousy of how the author approached and wrote the story, demoralization that I could never write anything like it, and then optimism that there are thousands of books being published each year and it’s good that my stories are (and will be) different.

It’s a lot to feel over the course of one day, especially when sleep continues to elude me.  Perhaps that is also a contributing factor.  But now that it’s been over 12 hours since I finished The Sun Is Also a Star, the truth is, and I credit my years of therapy and spiritual questing for helping me reach this point, is that I can easily let go of my irrational jealousy.  There is no reason on this Earth (or the heavens, for that matter), that I should be jealous of someone else’s success; if anything, I should be ecstatic that such a beautiful story is now being read by thousands of teenagers and perhaps encouraging them to think about their own places in this world.

And I do feel inspired with my own story ideas and characters from reading such a rich and engaging story.  One of the greatest compliments I can give to Ms. Yoon about this book is that after reading it, I want to further my learning of writing and keep practicing its craft so that I can write a story that engages readers as much as she has.

If only I could get that inspiration out of my head and onto the page with the same enthusiasm that I had when reading The Sun Is Also a Star.  In my exhausted state, writing, like most everything else, including doing the dishes, washing clothes, going anywhere, etc., seems like an insurmountable feat. Yet, I keep plugging along. Not with enthusiasm, and sometimes I feel rather belligerent about everything.

Having narcolepsy, this state of exhaustion may never change.  But my books and my stories are not going to write themselves.  So here you go.  A small piece of writing for a one-day late Memoir Monday post that makes me believe I’m accomplishing something.  Thank you for reading and for your support.

Memoir Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Narcoleptics Prevail

I think I’m making progress towards this whole I am a writer thing.  I say this because today I am utterly exhausted and I still wrote my daily word count, exceeded it, actually. 1500+ words when you are a narcoleptic and you haven’t slept well is quite an accomplishment. 

As my niece would say, “narcoleptics prevail!”

Someone today commended me on my writing habits.  He said I had “discipline.”  It’s funny, because that’s one of the last words I would use to describe myself.  How many times do I check my email, scroll through Facebook, look for new stories about JK Rowling or Pitch Perfect 3, or send a funny dog video to my husband before I sit down to write?  Probably about 1,265,317 times.  And that’s just in one morning.

Then there was this morning.  I did not want to write anything for my novel.  Not even a teeny tiny bit.  I tried to get going by revising a picture book I wrote for my online class through KidLit College.  I then sat and stared at my computer feeling rather belligerent about everything, especially writing.  Just write 100 words, I encouraged myself. 

What I really wanted to do was go back to bed and take a nap.  It was only 8:00am.

The last time I got a good night’s sleep was February 12th, 2016.  Seriously.  My husband and I stayed over at his friend’s house because we were having an all-day Harry Potter movie marathon.  I don’t know if it was the bed, how cold the room was, or the fact that my husband and I secretly eloped that morning.  Before that, my last good night’s sleep was the end of September, 2015, when I was housesitting for a friend, and before that it was a day in March, 2014, when I went to a chiropractic open house.

You know you’re dealing with a narcoleptic when they can tell you their last good night’s sleep.  What this means, though, is that it’s been many days in a row of not good sleep and ever since the full moon last week it’s been many days in a row of not good sleep and incredibly vivid, and often disturbing dreams.  Suffice it to say I feel exhausted.

It’s time like this that I’m incredibly grateful I had the courage and inclination to quit my teaching job.  When I was a professor, teaching four classes, advising 30-40 students, serving on committees, and conducting research, I was exhausted simply by the sheer weight of my work, never mind the narcolepsy. 

I would never have been able to write the way I do and I would not be where I am with my writing if I had not quit.

That’s one of the reasons, though, I could power through.  When I started writing this morning I was only 1500 words away from crossing the 20,000 word mark of my second novel.  I wanted to get there and I wanted to do it today so tomorrow could bring another goal.  I’m on track to finish the first draft of my second novel by the first week of February.  It blows my mind that not only do I have the first draft of one novel completed, but I’m getting to the finish line of a second one!  How did this happen?  Is it discipline?  Or is it positive reinforcement?  I don’t know, and right now, I don’t care, because I am tired, yet I am writing.  Narcoleptics prevail, indeed!